Despite the order from the FAA, the PIO refused to give information. He even tried to mislead the CIC by making false statements. The CIC while issuing a show cause to the PIO, awarded a compensation of Rs2,000 to the appellant. This is 155th in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed the Public Information Officer (PIO) and assistant officer for value added tax (AVATO), in the Department of Trade and Taxes at Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) to provide complete information. The CIC also asked the PIO to pay Rs2,000 as compensation to the appellant for the loss and detriment suffered by him of having to file the appeals and not getting information in time.
While giving this judgement on 3 June 2011, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner said, “The PIO did not give any justification for refusing to give the information initially and even after the order of the First Appellate Authority (FAA) he did not give the information. Even before the Commission, he was not willing to give the exact position. It does not need too much imagination to guess why there was such a resolute refusal to provide the information.”
Delhi resident LG Dass, on 22 November 2010, sought from the PIO information about action taken on a complaint he filed against a particular dealer who was using different series of retail invoices and not charging VAT on the car accessories. Here is the information he sought under the RTI Act...
1. Please inform the progress in the matter and particulars of action taken by this public authority against the dealer in pursuance of the aforesaid complaint dated 4 October 2010 followed by the, addendum dated 21 October 2010.
2. Please also supply copies of documents, correspondence, replies and file notings etc. in respect of enquiries & investigation initiated and/or conducted by this public authority till date in this regard.
In his reply on 24 December 2012, the PIO said, "This office has received your letter dated 4 October 2010. However, further details in this regard cannot be disclosed as these are prohibited under Section 8(1) (h) of the RTI Act, 2005 which inter alia states:
8 (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, -
h)information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;"
Again in a reply on 3 March 2010, the PIO stated, "However, in your case the status of enquiry or verification has changed since the date of providing information to you in response to your original application. Now, in this regard, the application has been forwarded to the VATO (KDU)/ Assessing Authority for further necessary action at their end. Since the matter pertains to third party information, a submission of TR Sawhney is being sought as stipulated under section 11 of the RTI Act. After the comments or submissions are received, you will be accordingly informed."
Dass, the applicant, citing information denied filed his first appeal. In his order the First Appellate Authority (FAA), said, "The PIO shall have the re-look into the issue and act in accordance with the law laid down by the High Court of Delhi. He shall furnish the information or respond the appellant as within 15 days."
Even after the FAA's order, the PIO did not provide the information. Dass then approached the CIC with his second appeal.
During the hearing, Mr Gandhi noted that the appellant (Dass) had filed a complaint on 4 October 2010 followed by an addendum on 21 October 2010. He had complained that a particular dealer was using different series of retail invoices and not charging VAT on the car accessories. Thus the appellant had filed a complaint about somebody fraudulently depriving the state of revenue. Through this RTI application he sought the action taken on this complaint, the CIC noted.
Mr Gandhi said, "The PIO has not provided the information as per the order of the FAA and Subhash (the PIO) has been trying to mislead the Commission by making false statements."
The FAA had ordered that the information should be provided within 15 days considering the order of the Delhi High Court in the Bhagat Singh Case.
"It is apparent that the PIO had made up his mind not to provide the information. Initially he refused to give the information claiming exemption under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act, without giving any reasons as to how disclosing the information would impede the process of investigation," Mr Gandhi said.
Under Section 19(5) of the RTI Act, the onus to prove the denial of information was justified and is on the PIO. "The PIO did not give any justification for refusing to give the information initially and even after the order of the FAA he did not give the information. Even before the Commission, he was not willing to give the exact position. It does not need too much imagination to guess why there was such a resolute refusal to provide the information," the CIC noted.
The Bench said, "The appellant has been unnecessarily harassed by the actions of the PIO and put to trouble by having to file the first and second appeal. An ordinary citizen instead of complaining and fighting succumbs to the pressure of undesirable functioning in offices instead of standing against it. Therefore, the award of compensation for harassment by public authorities not only compensates the individual, satisfies him personally but helps in curing social evil. It may result in improving the work culture and help in changing the outlook."
While allowing the appeal, Mr Gandhi directed the PIO to provide complete information available on records. Exercising its powers under Section 19(8)(b) of the RTI Act, the Bench awarded a compensation of Rs2000 to Dass for the loss and detriment suffered by him of having to file the appeals and not getting the information in time.
In addition, the CIC also issued a show cause notice to the PIO after finding him guilty of not furnishing information within the time specified under sub-section (1) of Section 7 by not replying within 30 days, as per the requirement of the RTI Act. "He has further refused to obey the orders of his superior officer, which raises a reasonable doubt that the denial of information may also be malafide," the Bench noted.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2011/000897/12692
Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2011/000897
Appellant : LG Dass,
Respondent : Subhash
Public Information Officer & AVATO (HQ)
Department of Trade and Taxes, GNCTD
O/o Commissioner (Enforcement- I),
Vyapar Bhawan, IP Estate,
Central Railways has asked an RTI applicant to shell out a whopping Rs81,000 for copies of reservation chart of two trains for a particular day; all by twisting its own official circulars and disregarding the RTI Act
Ravindra Wabale, a resident of Ahmednagar, is not so much an activist as much as he is a victim of tragedy, for which he is fighting a seemingly hopeless battle through Right to Information (RTI) applications. His brother was allegedly murdered during a train journey in the superfast Gitanjali Express on 26 May 2013, which runs between Mumbai and Kolkata. He wants to know who could be the alleged murderer, as police investigations have got him nowhere.
A copy of the train reservation chart of 26th May of these two trains, by which his brother had travelled, is what he had asked for in his RTI application on 24 June 2011, as it would reveal the names of people who shared the compartment with him, on that ill-fated day.
Wabale received reply to his RTI from SM Kamble, chief commercial manager and also designated Public Information Officer (PIO) of Central Railways, Mumbai. Much to Wabale’s distress, the PIO has asked him to pay Rs1,000 per copy of the relevant train reservation charts that runs into 81 pages and would therefore cost him Rs81,000.
The reply states: “In reply to your RTI application for furnishing copies of Reservation Charts of train nos 12859 and 12869 dated 26 May 2013, it is to inform you that as per Railway Board’s letter dated 13 December 2011, a fee of Rs1,000 per page is to be charged for furnishing a copy of Reservation Chart to any person. You are therefore requested to pay a charge of Rs81,000. On receipt of payment from your end, the copies of Reservation Charts will be furnished.’’
By the way, uploading of rail reservation comes under Section 4 of the RTI Act and the Railways regularly put up this information on its website. Railway network - local or national, is the lifeline of the country. But officers are trying their best to hide information and in this case, using the circulars. It is shocking that Railways are not adhering to the norms of the RTI Act and instead changing crucial words in the circulars to misinterpret them and harass RTI applicants.
Pune-based RTI activist, Vijay Kumbhar worked thoroughly on this issue by digging out the circular, which the PIO has quoted in his reply and accessing some of the earlier circulars from Railways as well.
Kumbhar said, “I studied the earlier circulars and have come to the conclusion that babus here have played with words to avoid or dodge RTI queries. The circular issued in 1994 is not available, but 2007 circular clearly shows that the fee of Rs750 was for verification purpose for government employees only and not for the copy of reservation chart asked by citizens. However, in the 2011 circular, the words ‘verification of PNR’ meant for verifying journey details has been changed to for ‘copy of reservation chart’. And the words ‘government departments’ were replaced by the words ‘any person’. This clearly indicates that it was done to avoid requisitions under RTI.’’
How ‘verification details’ in 2010 circular changed to ‘reservation chart’ in 2011
2007: The extract of the 2007 circular (No.2006FlG-I/20/P/LTC New Delhi, dated 10 January 2007) clearly states, “a uniform fee of Rs750 per verification should be charged by Zonal Railway from various government departments who approach for verification of LTC travel detail. The government agencies include - 1) Police/CBI in different types of investigation/ criminal cases 2) Courts 3) Railway Vigilance in various cases 4) Railway refund offices for deciding refund cases 5) Various reports of the Railways to dispose of complaint cases. CCMs/CCM (PMs) will, have discretionary powers to waive off the fee in specific cases like requests from different Commissions, Parliament or Legislative Secretariat etc. Necessary instructions may be issued to all concerned and receipt of this letter be acknowledged.’’
2010: “(No. 2006/TG-I/20/P/LTC New Delhi, dated 31 August 2010)
Please refer to this ofﬁce letter of even number dated 4 May 1994 and 10 January 2007 (Commercial Circular No.06 of 2007) inter alia advising therein regarding charging of a uniform fee of Rs750 per PNR for LTC veriﬁcation, and non-charging of this fee from certain agencies as prescribed therein. Now a query has been raised whether these charges are applicable for verifying journey details in other cases also.”
The matter has been considered at the Board’s level and it is clariﬁed that Zonal Railways should realise a uniform fee of Rs750 per PNR for verifying journey details irrespective of the fact whether it is for LTC veriﬁcation or otherwise.
2011: (Circular No.2006/TG-I/20/P/LTC Pt, New Delhi, dated 13 January 2011,)
“The issue has been examined in consultation with Finance Directorate of Board’s ofﬁce and it has been decided that the following fee should be realized for furnishing a copy of reservation chart to any person:
(i) For furnishing a copy of reservation chart to any person, a fee of Rs1,000 per page should be charged. In this case, party will be provided a printout of the reservation chart taken out from the system without indicating the status of passenger viz. turning up/non-turning up.
(ii) In case of furnishing of copy of working chart (having indication by TTEs/TCs relating to turning up or non-turning up and other relevant details), a fee of Rs750 per PNR should be charged for all the PNRs indicated on that page’’
Once again, even in the sphere of RTI, Netas and Babus want to bend and break rules.
According to a Gazette notification dated 16 September 2005, there are specific rules for providing information under sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the RTI Act, about additional fees.
a. For each page (in A-4 or A-3 size paper) created or copied Rs2 per page
b. For a copy in larger size paper actual charge or cost price
c. For samples or models actual cost or price
d. For inspection of records No fee for the first hour; Rs5 per hour thereafter.
Further, for providing the information under sub-section (5) of Section 7, the fee shall be charged at the following rates:-
a. For information provided in diskette or floppy Rs50 (Rupees fifty only) per diskette or floppy
b. For information provided in printed form. At the price fixed for such publication or Rs2 per page of photocopy for extracts from the publication. The mode of payment of above mentioned additional fees shall be the same as application fee.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the 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”.)
This year the monsoon left many areas in floods, loss in standing crop, rotting grains and slow movement as a sequel. Nevertheless, will we learn some lessons from this?
Three weeks ago, we had the Ministry of Agriculture projecting the possibility of lower food grains output due to scanty rainfall in some parts of the country. The estimate was 255 million tonnes (mt) of food grains, just four million short from the previous year. Our buffer stocks from last year would cover this, should there be a shortfall.
Fortunately, in the last three weeks, the Southwest monsoon has reversed the situation and the actual rainfall now shows that there is an excess of upto 45% over the last year.
Every year the monsoon has played a very important role in the Indian economy. This year, however, it started with tragic consequences due to devastating flash floods in Uttarakhand, resulting in huge loss of life and damage to property.
This unexpected onslaught from nature could not be even imagined and thousands perished. Even months after this occurrence, as rehabilitation work is going on, hundreds of bodies are still being discovered. It would take several years more before Hardwar and the neighbouring areas can return to normalcy.
There were no drought conditions in the country that have been reported, though in some areas, there was scanty rainfall.
The Central Water Commission has released the statistical data that shows, in fact, the major reservoirs are at 10-year average, thanks to the 45% excess rainfall received. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) confirms that, overall India received 593.8mm rainfall against 517.2mm last year. The final farm output is likely to improve on the present estimated of 255mt grains, once full data is computed.
However, in the case of wheat, the output for the current year (2012-13) is estimated at 92.46mt as against 94.88mt in the previous year. During the same period, high-grade Basmati output has been 8 to 9mt, while all others were clubbed together at about 90 to 100 mt. Exports during the year 2013-14 are projected at about 11mt and expected to earn $6 billion.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI) holds substantial quantity of both wheat and rice in its godowns throughout the country. But these are poorly stored under covered and plinth (CAP) areas and in custom built warehouses. Large number of these facilities is subject to natural rot, unhygienic conditions and due to lack of sufficient pest control methods in place, are the feeding grounds for millions of rodents and other pests. On top of these, pilferage is another hazard that FCI has to face in transportation of materials.
It is claimed that a large percentage of grains, stored in such awful conditions is not even fit for human consumption and can be only sold as feed and filler requirements for cattle. The debate on this issue has been going on for decades now, with no end in sight.
The FCI godowns supposedly hold a record 42mt of grains, and the buffer requirement has been estimated at 20mt, thus leaving an excess of 22mt overflowing in these godowns.
Not very long ago, a proposal to distribute the excess food grains to the needy and poor was put up, but despite overwhelming demand and support from the public, nothing happened, and grains continue to rot. New arrivals, as they keep coming in, are simply loaded on the top of the existing lot, causing removal difficulties for despatch and causing further damage at the bottom bags.
Exports by private sector enabled despatch of rice, soybean meal, maize and cotton, but when public sector undertakings (PSU) are involved in export of wheat, the result has been unsatisfactory. As usual, too many rules with too few to take spot decisions and permit export in full realization of what the market traffic can bear has affected our exports. Prices fall and tend to rise as per market situations and one has to bear in mind intense international competition in food grains, like any other product.
Rotting food grains means total loss; in addition, there is loss of interest and damages that an importer can claim if goods are shipped without proper inspection by authorized third parties. These are unlikely to occur if exports are left in the hands of private sector who will take the initiative. Once the farmer realizes that he obtains the minimum support price and guaranteed movement of goods, he will be tempted to take greater care to produce more.
The government must now persuade corporate houses to come forward and build silos, granaries and warehouse facilities in all the areas where production takes place. This should be done in such a manner that we are able to salvage and keep the stocks in good condition, both for domestic supplies and for export. This is an area that needs urgent action on the part of the government.
Rotting of food grains must stop at all costs anywhere in the country and those responsible must be punished.
( AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)