The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), traditionally made public, the complete selection-process for Padma awards just after their announcement on Republic Day. Since the last two years, it refused information under RTI. CIC has directed the MHA to provide the information within four weeks
Delhi-based right to information (RTI) activist, Subhashchandra Agrawal, had filed RTI applications in 2014 and 2015, seeking information from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on 27 points pertaining to Padma Awards. These included, list of nominations received in the Ministry within the stipulated date along with names of those recommending nominations; authority through which MHA received such nominations; dates on which such nominations were received by the MHA; names of Search Committee Members; names considered by the Search and names recommended by the Search Committee.
The Public Information Officer (PIO) refused information on the grounds that some of the information was secretive in nature, some of it is not maintained in the office and that, the records have not been updated as yet and therefore information can be provided only in March or April when the Padma awards are given away.
Agrawal filed a second appeal in the office of Information Commissioner, Sudhir Bhargava in Delhi. The order on 16 February 2016, by him, makes it mandatory for the Ministry to provide all the information within four weeks of the order which would be mid-April.
Information must be made public on Republic Day itself:
The Commission after hearing both the parties and perusing the records observed that the name of the Padma awardees are declared on the Republic Day and information is uploaded on the website, hence, the information comes in public domain on the Republic Day itself.
“Therefore, all information related to declaration of Padma Awards is part of the records as well as is under the control of the MHA and comes under the definition of ‘information’ as per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act.”
Non-completion of process no reason for denial of information:
“Once, an applicant seeks information as defined in Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, the CPIO, as per Section 7 of the RTI Act shall either provide the information or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in Sections 8 and 9 of the Act and cannot add or introduce new reasons or grounds for rejecting furnishing of information.”
“However, the only reason put forth by the respondent in not providing the information is the non-completion of the process as the conferment of Padma Awards is done in March/April every year. The CPIO, is, therefore, unable to show any exemptions under the stated provisions of Sections 8 or 9 of the RTI Act under which the information can be denied. It being so, there is no ground for denying the information and the CPIO should furnish the same to the appellant.”
“The Commission, therefore, directs the respondent to provide information to the appellant as sought by him in his RTI application dated 27 January 2015. With regard to the second appeal dated 12 May 2014, the Commission directs the CPIO to provide part information as sought in point nos. 17 and 24 of the RTI application to the appellant.”
“CIC directs MHA to restore practice of making public selection-process for Padma awards just after Republic Day (see attachments)”.
When contacted by Moneylife, Agrawal says, “There was a healthy practice in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to make public complete selection-process for Padma awards just after their announcement on Republic Day when quizzed through an RTI petition filed on the following day on 27th January. But suddenly MHA declined information on RTI petitions filed on 27th January by taking excuse that ‘process is not complete and over’ meaning thereby that such information would be disclosed only after honouring done by President of India in a ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhawan (New Delhi) sometime in March-April! Names of those recommending for Padma awards for the year 2015 could not be made public even after more than one year even though record-retention-schedule for selection-process is just one year.”
Central Information Commission now through its various verdicts dated 16 February 2016 has directed MHA to restore practice of making public selection-process of Padma awards just after Republic Day. Newly appointed Central Information Commissioner having given the multiple verdicts in this regard deserves all compliments for his bold verdicts against MHA,” he added.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, and also convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)