The onus of organising the documents meticulously before calling applicants for file inspection would be on the PIOs
Often, Public Information Officers (PIOs) have been asking citizens to visit the office for inspection of files, at very short notice. Even for information that may amount to a couple of pages that could have easily been given by the PIO, as the reply to the information query. All that the PIO had to do, was to apply his mind.
Maharashtra state Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) Ratnakar Gaikwad, appreciating a circular issued by Ajoy Mehta, the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai, sent out a detailed notice as to when and how PIOs should call applicants for inspection of files, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The SCIC’s order on 2 July 2015 is a sequel to an email sent by former Central Information Commissioner and RTI activist, Shailesh Gandhi on 30 June, 2015, with reference to Mehta’s order. Mr Gaikwad treated this email from Mr Gandhi as an official complaint under Section 18 (1) (f) of RTI Act and the Commission under provision of Section 19 (8) (a) has directed the Chief Secretary to “issue similar instructions to all the PIOs under the control of the Government of Maharashtra. Compliance of this order should be reported to Commission by 31 July 2015.’’
Mr Gandhi says, “This is one of the rare, pro-active citizen-friendly order and both, Mr Mehta and Mr Gaikwad need appreciation. Now, as directed by SCIC Gaikwad, the Chief Secretary must issue the circular by 31st July, so that it percolates to every public authority in Maharashtra. Also, the rules set for the PIO regarding inspection of files should be put up as large sized posters in offices of the Commission so that PIOs who visit often, read them. The same should be uploaded on websites of public authorities as well.”
BMC’s circular that triggered it all
“The circular issued by Ajoy Mehta, Municipal Commissioner, Mumbai, on 19 May 2015 states that “According to the RTI Act 2005, clause 6(1) in many cases, persons, who have applied for getting information, are intimated by the Public Information Officers (PIOs) to come and inspect the documents. The State Information Commissioner has objected to this in some cases. If the person has not applied for the inspection of documents and the information he has requested is not voluminous, he should not be asked to come for inspection of documents. In such cases, number of pages should be counted and the applicant should be informed to pay the prescribed charges.”
“In cases, where the information requested by the applicant is voluminous, he may be given a chance to see and inspect the documents and given copies of the requisite records by charging the prescribed fee.”
“In cases where the applicant has applied for inspection of the documents or the information he has requested is voluminous, an index of all the documents should be prepared before he is called for inspection of the documents. Also, each page in the file must be numbered. Three dates and timings should be intimated to the applicant before he is called. If these dates are not convenient to the applicant, he should be asked to get in touch with the PIO. The file numbers of the files in which the information requested by the applicant is available, should be intimated.”
“In case, on the date, on which the applicant is coming, the concerned PIO has to go out of office because of some important work, he should hand over the responsibility of giving documents for examination to his colleague or assistant. As directed by the Circular dated 9th July 2009, the office telephone number as well as email address of the PIO should be intimated to the applicant.”
The CIC order that upholds BMC commissioner’s circular for implementation:
The CIC order of 2 July 2015, states that, Shailesh Gandhi, in his mail of 30 June 2015 has pointed out that, “It is seen that for simple information requests, PIOs send letters to applicant asking them to come and inspect records. When the applicant gets time from the PIO to inspect, a bunch of files is offered and the applicant is told to find the information.”
“He (Mr Gandhi) has further mentioned that in this connection, Municipal Commissioner, BMC, has taken a very good initiative by issuing a circular wherein detailed instructions have been given to the effect that the information seeker need not be asked to come for inspection of documents unless the information is voluminous. In those cases, where information requested by the applicant is voluminous, he may be given a chance to see and inspect the documents, but after pages are counted and required charges are communicated to the information seeker.”
The SCIC as mentioned in the article treated Mr Gandhi’s email as an official complaint and directed the Chief Secretary to issue a circular based on 19 May 2015 circular of BMC Commissioner, to all public authorities in Maharashtra.
Kudos to Mr Mehta, Mr Gandhi and Mr Gaikwad – now let us wait for Chief Secretary’s action.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and 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”.)