We have heard of public information officers (PIOs) being slammed with penalty if they deny or do not provide appropriate information. However, recently, refusing to accept a right to information (RTI) application has landed a PIO, the principal of a school in this case, in a soup, as he has been slammed with Rs25,000 penalty.
In what can be termed as an action to stop the sly tactics of PIOs across the country, who often refuse to accept RTI applications so that they cannot be held accountable for denial of information, the firebrand journalist-turned-information commissioner of Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rahul Singh has ordered this penalty.
The case goes thus: Ramniwas Kushwah, principal of the government higher secondary school in Kharamseda of Satna district, refused to accept an RTI application sent by registered post by RTI applicant Munnalal Patel.
Aggrieved, Mr Patel filed the first appeal (FA) with the Satna district education officer but when this did not yield a result, he filed a second appeal with the information commissioner Mr Singh. In the second appeal hearing held last week, Mr Singh ruled that, “this case be taken up as a complaint and not as appeal for appeal requires RTI application to be received at PIO office. Also, the first appeal can be admitted only after 30 days of RTI application being filed. In such a case, the RTI applicant should have directly complained to the commission under Section 18 of the RTI Act.” That is because the RTI application did not exist at all!
During the hearing, the principal claimed that he had no idea who had refused information on his behalf. However, Mr Singh observed that “there were sufficient evidence against the principal, such as the post office receipt and postman's note ‘recipient refused to receive the post hence returned’ recorded on the envelope that was returned by the PIO.”
Mr Singh asked the principal to produce evidentiary proof, such as the postman's clarification about the no role of the principal's office in turning down the RTI application letter. Mr Singh noted that accountability has to be fixed in turning down the RTI application.
Government offices cannot refuse to accept RTI applications, ruled Mr Singh, who, in his order, stressed on how, under Section 6 of RTI, all citizens have the right to file RTI applications, and if a PIO refuses to accept the application, then he violates this section.
Mr Singh stated to Moneylife
, “This order sends a strong message that, under no circumstances, can the PIO prevent any person from filing RTI application and the right of the citizen cannot be compromised in the name of petty bureaucratic mismanagement.”
This is not the first time that Mr Singh has taken such action. He reveals, “In another interesting case, I have imposed penalty of Rs25000 against a station house officer (SHO) posted at a police station in Singrauli district of MP. The SHO had returned the registered posts containing RTI as many as four times. When I asked for the reason, the SHO claimed some outsiders in plain clothes used to refuse to accept RTI applications. The SHO had also got a clarification note from the postman that reads that some unknown people in plainclothes indeed used to return the post at the police station.”
Mr Singh imposed a penalty on the SHO and asked the senior police authority to initiate the departmental enquiry.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the 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”.)