Concern among Information Commissioners over Pension
The Central and State Information Commissioners (not from civil services) are greatly upset over the issue of their pensions. The Right to Information Act 2005 mandates appointment of Information Commissioners from various fields of eminence. If a person of eminence is appointed from a civil service, he will get back-up pension to be added to pension accrued during service as an IC. But when a person appointed as IC is not from a regular civil service, but from a field of activity which was not supported by any pension benefit, his or her monthly pension would be drastically less than the other colleagues in the Commission. For instance, Prof (Dr) Madabhushanam Sridhar Acharyulu, former professor of law at National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University of Law at Hyderabad, who is now an IC in New Delhi, Prof M.M. Ansari, and Shailesh Gandhi, who retired as ICs, were selected from their own fields of eminence. As they are not supported by any pension in their fields of activity, they end up getting pension between Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 only per month, whereas other ICs coming from civil services will get more monthly pension. The pension is a financial support to persons who worked as Information Commissioners to help them to lead a dignified life after retirement.
Over a decade-long experience of the RTI Act has not as yet put in place any concrete plan towards the pensions of ICs and State ICs. It is perhaps the most pertinent question, as after the five-year tenure, a CIC or SIC would end up with a pension of around Rs 6,0000-8,000 per month, which amounts to virtually nothing in today’s inflation scenario.
The Parliament has made persons of “eminence” the selection criteria, which comes after a “life-long” service towards law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media, or administration and governance. Those who come from law or social service or journalism backgrounds are the worst sufferers as their profession does not offer pension.
There is interstate disparity also, for example, between Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. About 3,000 cases are registered anew every month in UP. While a retired SIC in UP gets Rs 6,000 as monthly pension, in Karnataka the pension is Rs 40,000 per month.
A similar situation had arisen for pensions of some Supreme Court and high court judges. Eminent lawyers who are selected straight from bar are both at the apex court and the high courts, were bereft of any pension as they were not in any earlier service linked with a pension. This, however, was changed after petitions from the “suffers” with an amendment to the law in 2016 that presumes that every such judge to have 10 years in service, and thus, their pension will be calculated accordingly.
This now puts their pension at par with judges from the judicial services. The CICs and SICs have also been accorded the status of quasi-judicial bodies in the wake of a Supreme Court order (Namit Sharma v Union of India, Case No 210 of 2012). The same yardstick deserves to be applied to CICs and SICs who do not come from pension-linked services.
Prof Sridhar Acharyulu has filed a representation to the Central government through proper channel of the CIC in the Department of Personnel and Training to seek justice. He says that when a CIC is equal to an EC, who is equal to a Supreme Court judge, a similar assumption of 10 years’ service can be adopted for information commissioners appointed from a field of eminence, without having service or pension support. “As there is no separate enactment of salary and other terms of service for the information commissioners, the inequality is a violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, and can be done away with by promulgating the Rules of Pension for Information Commissioners at the Central level,” says Acharyulu.
No godman face for Ravana
It was a laborious exercise to try to get a Ravana effigy this Dussehra with the face of a “disgraced” self-styled godman. Led by a wealthy Jat dignitary, a group in west Delhi was keen to depict “social evils” through the Ravana and the other two effigies. They discussed various evils. They decided on the grave issue of rising rape incidents. To make it talk-of-the-town, they decided to depict a controversial godman. The group approached a prominent effigy maker near Rajouri Garden. He refused saying that “I don’t want any trouble.” Then they approached a local senior police officer informally and asked whether they could get the permission to burn such effigies in their residential area. Amused, the police officer said, “I can’t give you permission. Your mission can create law and order situation.” Upset, the stubborn leader met a prominent criminal lawyer in the Patiala House courts to seek his opinion. The lawyer said, “What an interesting idea, Sirji.” “Then should we go ahead?” he asked. Smiling, the lawyer said, “This idea can’t be implemented. You will run into serious legal problems. The police will seize your effigies on the plea that the act is likely to hurt feelings of a section of the society. You can also be arrested.” Continuing, the lawyer said, “By burning a godman’s effigy in the garb of Ravana may anger him and he or his followers may slap criminal and civil defamation cases against you. You might also be harmed.” Then looking into his eyes, the lawyer asked, “Have you talked to your wife?” This demolished the man. The group thereupon ordered a big Ravana effigy “with a traditional face”.
When ‘Bhai’ phoned
Last Sunday in this column, we talked about how “different forces” for over two decades have been making tall claims about the desire of don Dawood Ibrahim to return to his motherland in the final stage of his life. The latest claim has come from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray. He claims that the “sick” fugitive underworld mafia head is currently negotiating a settlement with the Central government for his return. Raj has claimed that the government’s game plan is to win power again in 2019 on the “Dawood plank”. This columnist has been tracking the Dawood developments for long. In the current context, I recall a mid-1990s episode. I was working for a national English daily and a top lawyer friend had asked me whether I would like to interview Dawood. Several meetings were fixed for an undisclosed destination in the Gulf over four months, but they did not materialise. The lawyer friend was helped by a middle-aged woman from Mumbai, who reportedly had close links with the underworld, politicians and the police. Finally, one morning, I was told to get ready to fly to Dubai at a short notice of two days, and that from there I might be taken to somewhere else, maybe to Africa or South East Asia. I immediately obtained the permission of the editor and the paper’s top executive. An open return ticket was purchased. As a precaution, I picked up a well-known photographer friend, Rakesh Sahai, from outside to accompany me. He purchased his own ticket. At 7 am, one day before the departure, my residence telephone rang. As I picked up, a deep voice said, “Salaam! Hope you are coming?” When asked who was speaking, the voice said, “Mein Bhai bol raha hoon…Shall I send the ticket?” When I replied that “my paper has already bought the ticket”, he insisted on making all the arrangements, being the host. When I refused to accept his hospitality, he said, “Alright, I respect your decision. I will be waiting to meet you.” And the phone line went dead after less than a minute’s conversation. However the trip did not materialise. Rakesh Sahai, however, went to Dubai, hoping to shoot the don. But no one met him. For me, no other phone call ever came from abroad to say “Salaam”.
There are many people who don’t want Dawood to return. They include top politicians, serving and retired police officers and bureaucrats, intelligence men, Bollywood stars, businessmen and some members of the Fourth Estate. I am sure Dawood also does not want to return to face a possible prosecution. His return, dead or alive, is possible only when the don is placed outside his most believed hideout Pakistan. But the ISI won’t let it happen.
Himachal blind girl EC’s youth icon
For the first time, a blind person has been honoured by the Election Commission of India. Young Muskan Thakur, a rising singing star, has been selected by the poll watch body as a “youth icon” to motivate youngsters to exercise their franchise in the forthcoming Assembly elections. “Oh my God, I will be on billboards all over the state…wish I could see them,” she told The Sunday Guardian over a local journalist’s phone.
With a traditional Himachali face, Muskan comes from remote Chirgaon area in Rohru subdivision of Shimla district. She is a first semester student of MA (Music) in Himachal Pradesh University. She has been a meritorious student throughout. When she got into the merit list of Class XII examinations, she received a laptop from the government.
A runner-up in the “Voice of Himachal” (junior category), Muskan has won the university’s youth festival award twice and has also been adjudged as an ace performer during the summer festival. After her graduation, she is now pursuing higher studies with the help of electronic gadgets. “I want to teach in the university,” says a confident Muskan.
Man Mohan can be contacted at email@example.com