5 Panchayat Secretaries of Madhya Pradesh Slapped with Rs1.25 Lakh Penalty by IC for Denying Information under RTI Act
Early this week, Rahul Singh, the information commissioner (IC) of Madhya Pradesh, slapped a penalty of Rs25,000 each on five panchayat secretaries for deliberately not disseminating information sought by the RTI (Right to Information Act) applicant way back in 2017. He simultaneously ordered the director of panchayat and rural development of the state to conduct training programmes on the RTI Act (in line with Section 19(8)(a)(5) of the RTI Act) through webinars on Zoom and Google Meet for panchayat secretaries.
In what can be termed as a sterling example of utmost transparency, the dynamic journalist turned IC Rahul Singh has posted the video of his second appeal hearings on the social media. The RTI applicant and the respective PIOs (public information officers) and FAAs (first appellate authorities) were connected through WhatsApp of their mobile phones. Here is the video link https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3456710864457321&id=219344112838215&sfnsn=mo
A sample of the IC hearing by Mr Singh speaks much about his passion and a sensible attitude towards his job.
He first asked the FAA Mr Meena the reason behind the inordinate pendency of the RTI application for a good three years. Mr Meena replied that he took charge as FAA on 22nd and on the 23rd he got this first appeal hearing. Then he got to know that the PIO had conducted the first appeal on his own, keeping the FAA in the dark. When Mr Singh asked him what action he took, he said he has initiated a departmental inquiry against the PIO as well as another officer who claimed that information asked of an employee could not be given as the person was not employed here at all. (The truth is otherwise).
IC Mr Singh then took the PIO DB Singh to task, asking him how he could have told such an untruth and have illegally played the role of an FAA? The PIO fumbled saying that an administrative officer (Sthapana Prabhari) provided him with wrong information. To that, IC Mr Singh stated that, “I don’t want such an irresponsible PIO in the entire state. Besides, you cannot play the role of a mere post office. You need to apply your mind when you receive an RTI application. The Supreme Court has directed that it is the duty of the PIO to give information.”
Her further made known to PIO Mr Singh that, “you will retire one day and realise that you may be given the same information. Perhaps that day is not very far and then you will know why this law has been made. It has been made to ensure transparency and stop corruption in public offices and to ensure public accountability. What have you done as per the law in your role as a PIO?”
IC Mr Singh then questioned PIO Mr Singh saying, “Why shouldn’t you be penalised? In future you don’t do this and I will ensure that you don’t. This case should not have come to me in the first place. You will remember this for keeping the FAA in the dark. I don’t know about your office, but the state information commission is surely taking action.” He was penalised Rs25,000.
RTI applicant Amir Ulla Khan had filed an RTI application on 10 October, 2017, seeking information from various gram panchayats of Madhya Pradesh on the list of beneficiaries for toilets and residential homes under various government schemes comprising Indira Awas Yojana, Mukhyamantri Yojana, Van Kutir Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Yojana for the period between 1 January 2013 and 10 October 2017. He also sought information of the list of beneficiaries under Kapildhara Yojna which provides wells to villagers and details of MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act).
In one of the cases, the RTI applicant had sought his father’s details of employment, after his retirement. In a strange course of events, PIO TP Singh played the self-styled role of FAA also and again denied information. He kept the FAA in the dark allegedly to hide information. After RTI applicant Mr Khan filed his second appeal with the SIC, the latter ordered the FAA to take action against the PIO. The FAA issued a show-cause notice on 22 January 2018 to the PIO. The PIO in turn replied that he had no knowledge of the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005. Reprimanding the incompetency of PIOs, IC Mr Singh observed that the information which was to have been provided within 30 days, was actually provided after three years.
In a press note released by the SIC office, it states, “Rahul Singh in his order observed that the panchayat secretaries have no knowledge of information displayed on the panchayat websites and MNREGA website under section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005 and later fail to dispense such information to the public. 90% of panchayat secretaries working in the state are unaware of the law which was made to divulge information to the citizens of India. This eventually creates a backlog in the information commission.”
The press note also states, “Rahul Singh also observed that, information related to the fund given for development of the village and construction work are stashed away from the public. This later promotes corruption as it happened in the Rewa’s Swakradhan scam. Rahul Singh, information commissioner, believes that the development of villages will happen only when the system becomes transparent with the implementation of the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.”
(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”.)