Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act makes it mandatory for every public authority to suo moto display on its official website an RTI Section that provides basic information of the Act as well as in-depth information. However, 12 long years after the implementation of this citizen-empowering law, most of the public authorities have failed to comply with this directive, forcing the citizens to file RTI applications for procuring the information they require.
In the first week of October, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has slapped a penalty of Rs5000 on the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Bar Council, Delhi (BCD), for failing to dedicate a section on its website for RTI. Chief Information Commissioner Radha Krishna Mathur objected to the callous attitude of BCD in not providing information under the RTI Act; and instead asking for more time by not attending three CIC hearings and still not giving the information thereafter. The BCD, after the CIC order, has agreed to provide the required information to the RTI applicant.
Shashi, the RTI applicant had filed a second appeal with the CIC as she did not get from the CPIO, BCD, a copy of the file notings and the resolutions relating to an increment in the enrolment fee for advocates wanting to become members of BCD in the last five years. She stated at the CIC hearing that she was compelled to file an RTI application as the relevant section of the BCD website throws up a ‘Not Found’ message, which is in defiance of Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act. As a result, the address of the CPIO/1st appellate authority is not displayed for the information of the general public.’’
She appealed to the CIC that penalty should be imposed on the CPIO, BCD for not providing her with the required information in time and also for not complying with the RTI Act. She also sought a token compensation on account of loss of her valuable time and the mental agony she suffered.
The CIC order states that, “The representative of the Bar Council of Delhi agreed to provide to the RTI applicant a certified copy of the complete file notings and the resolutions relating to the increment in enrolment fee during the five-year period prior to the date of receipt of this RTI application, within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order. Moreover, he stated that he has not been properly briefed by the CPIO, as he had been recently appointed.’’
The CIC directed that the website of the Bar Council of Delhi should be updated as per the RTI Act. “The CPIO, BCD should intimate this factual position to the Commission, within 30 days from the date of receipt of this order,” he said.
“The CPIO, BCD remained absent for CIC hearings, thrice. It appears that the CPIO has failed to honour his legal obligations under the RTI Act by repeatedly making excuses for the delay in giving the information. Moreover, the CPIO has not submitted any written submissions/explanations with regard to the delay and his absence on each day of the hearing,’’ he added.
Commenting upon the man deputed to represent the CPIO at the CIC hearing, who admitted to having scant knowledge of the case, CIC Mathur said, “It does not seem appropriate for the CPIO not to depute any suitable officer for attending the CIC hearing/attending to RTI application(s). This lack of a sense of responsibility from the respondent authority reflects his utter disregard for the law. The CPIO could have sent his authorised representative to present his case but he failed in his legal duty.”
CIC Mathur further stated: “Due to the absence and inaction of the CPIO, the appellant could not get this information in time. This is a fit case for imposing penalty on the CPIO on the ground of delay/denial of information by the CPIO by being absent on all the previous occasions. He did not care to convey even to this Commission the reasons for the delay. Hearings were scheduled one after the other, giving ample opportunity to the respondent (CPIO) to present his case. Despite this, he did not fulfil his legal obligation of timely supply of information to the appellant. It is observed that merely citing the incidence of the verification process by the Bar Council of Delhi does not absolve the CPIO from his legal duty under the RTI Act.’’
Warning the CPIO and the chairman of BCD against remaining absent from any further hearings, CIC Mathur imposed a penalty of Rs5,000 on the CPIO. However, it did not consider Shashi’s request for compensation for the delay as she had not explained any loss and detriment suffered by her due to non-supply of information as per the RTI Act. No case oVinita f compensation is therefore made out in the matter.
There are hundreds of public authorities who do not abide by the requirement of suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act. There is an urgent need for the Chief Central Information Commissioner to track down such defaulters and issue orders for compliance to public authorities from time to time.
(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”