Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Essential transparency in judicial and quasi-judicial institutions

I had made a commitment when I was made an Information Commissioner that I would ensure that I decided most of the cases before me in less than 3 months. By and large, I have been able to fulfill this promise and perhaps the average time for decisions must be around two months. Sometime in June 2011, a RTI application was received by my PIO, asking for the decision in a case registered in May, 2010. My staff could not locate the decision anywhere! I realized that the case had not been listed for hearing inadvertently, and no decision had been given. I realized that if a mistake had been made in one case, it could have been made in some others as well. A careful search of 2010 cases revealed another 110 cases which had been forgotten and missed completely! 
 
         We listed these for hearing and in one of them, there was a heart rending story. A Government employee had died in 1993 leaving his widow and young children. The widow was illiterate and poor. Since 1993 she had been struggling to get the pension she was entitled to. Since she was illiterate, she probably could not pursue the matter properly and each time there was a great delay, the system required many more proofs to establish her claim. By the time she barely managed to submit the required papers, it took years and office inefficiencies would not take decisions for some years! The lady appeared before me with her son who was an unskilled laborer, and both of them could not describe the exact sequence of events. The PIO however assured me that all the papers had been put in order and she would get her pension and all the dues soon. It will always haunt me for my life,- that despite running a reasonably efficient setup,- after her 17 year struggle, I was instrumental in delaying succor to her by a full year. 

          This set me thinking and I realized that there could be many such mistakes, which could result in untold suffering to Citizens who approach judicial and quasi-judicial bodies. In most cases there is no list which citizens can access which will tell them, whether their cases are in queue, and whether any logic is being applied in taking up the matters waiting in this queue. I feel upset when I see anyone jumping a queue at the airport, and in judicial and quasi-judicial bodies, the citizen cannot even see the queue. It is necessary that there is transparency in this matter, and citizens can see the queue and also feel assured that it is being dealt with in a transparent non-arbitrary manner. All judicial and quasi-judicial bodies should first ensure that this queue is very short and also give visibility to citizens in the way they take up the cases. 

         I took up the matter of listing pending cases in the Central Information Commission with the Chief Information Commissioner, who readily agreed. The ‘List of pending cases’ has been displayed on the website of the CIC at www.cic.gov.in and will be updated every month. In the Central Information Commission which is just six years old, this will lead to an opportunity for us to correct mistakes and also reassure citizens that there is fairness in taking up their cases. In most Commissions and judicial bodies, Citizens suspect arbitrariness and corruption in the listing of cases. The simple act of listing all pending cases publicly, will go a long way in restoring Citizens confidence in these Institutions, and also act as self- regulating check.

Shailesh Gandhi
Central Information Commissioner
The views expressed by me are my personal views and may  not represent the views of the Commission.
15 January 2012.
Email: shaileshgan@gmail.com


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bright minds and Dark Angels


Being a 5-pointer proves to be too much for these bright students and they fail to deal with the pressure.

Dad – sorry I couldn't be a better son to you… all you asked was my betterment of my career and future and I couldn't give it to you… I have failed you dad and I am so sorry about it. I cannot show my face to you
Mom – Sorry mom, I really did love you more than dad….

I was weak I thought I could become strong but I was weak, I was so so so weak the fault is my own. The fault is my own. Hope something good happens with my death. Firestallion has left the building…

I wish to donate my eyes and internal organs…. At least somebody can be benefitted with my death.
In another 2 min it will be 3:13 both my fav numbers. awesome time to die 

These were Nitin Kumar Reddy's last words in an email he sent to his father. The final-year M.Tech student at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras hanged himself from a ceiling fan in his hostel room after he got a semester extension.

Straight out of Raju Hirani's blockbuster 3 Idiots, Nitin aka Firestallion aka Swamy was on the verge of completing his final-year project, but could not meet the deadline. Unable to face the embarrassment of not graduating with his batch, he “left the building”.

'' I had told him not to worry; I would sort it out,'' says Nitin's father, Lakshmana Moorthy, who was to land in Chennai by the first flight the next morning. “I had left my office to attend a meeting. I got a call telling me that Nitin had sent a disturbing email. By the time my friend read out the email, he was gone.”

The pressure cooker description given by the media certainly does not go with the IIT Madras campus, located within a 620-acre natural forest with a magnificent lake and a wide range of flora and fauna.

However, in the last three years, the campus has witnessed six suicides—the highest number across IITs. This year eight IITians killed themselves across India, and IIT Madras leads this list, too, with two students, both from the mechanical engineering department, killing themselves.

In February, V. Anoop, 25, a final-year M.Tech student at IIT Madras, hanged himself in his hostel room, as he could not complete his course in time.

His father, Vijay Kumar, says Anoop had trouble with his guide, who “wasn't happy that Anoop did not consult him enough”. Anoop had requested a change, and it was granted. “His new guide had assured him that he would complete the project in time…. But we got a letter from the institute asking us to re-register. I got a call that midnight that he was gone,” he recalls.

And more recently, in September, B. Gowri Shankar, a second-year postgraduate student at IIT Madras was found dead in his room. It is suspected to be a case of suicide, though forensic experts are yet to confirm it.

According Nitin's friends, he had finished the major part of his project: simulation. “He had trouble fixing the engine,” they recall. “He asked his guide for help. He was told to approach the lab technicians, but they apparently were unable to help. Nitin tried fixing it himself, which did not happen. Finally on the day when he had to submit the thesis, the engine wasn't ready.”

And that meant Nitin had to repeat a semester. His plum placement plans bid him goodbye, and he bid goodbye to life.

Students who knew Nitin say he had initially faltered with his time-management. “His project guide should have noticed this and helped him fast-track his work,” says a student. “Indeed, many professors fail to pay enough attention to projects, as they are busy with researchers under them.”

While extensions pushed Anoop and Nitin to the extreme, the latest IITian to give up on life—Mehtab Ahmed, a first year student in IIT Kanpur—had been on campus just for a couple of months. The youngest in his family, Ahmed hanged himself from the ceiling fan in his hostel room on September 22.

The reasons being cited were many, including love affair and homesickness. The end result, however, was scrawled across the wall of his room in pencil: “I am tired of IIT-Kanpur.” This was the ninth suicide in IIT Kanpur in five years. 

Concerned about the spike in the number of students killing themselves, the IIT Council headed by Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has recommended setting up of a task force—consisting of teachers, parents and students—to study the issue.

Eight suicides across India in an annual combined batch of 10,000 might seem, as one professor in IIT Madras put it famously, “statistically unimportant''. But when the country's brightest students decide to end their lives, it does call for, if nothing, introspection.

Life@IIT

What makes these brilliant students crack? Boman Irani as the heartless professor may have been the chief reason for many students to give up in 3 Idiots, but in real life, it is much more complicated.

And it is not that IITs are like Nazi camps. Majority of the graduates say IIT was the best part of their lives. Even current students agree: “It is fun; the pressure is part of it,” says an IIT Madras B.Tech student. “We booze once in a while, we have ‘unofficial' inter-hostel competitions, and we have our own share of masti, besides plenty of sports and recreational facilities.”



Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.