RTI Judgement Series: PIO's varying statements created suspicion of wrongdoing
Moneylife Digital Team 17 July 2013
The PIO's varying statements in the case of reported fraud created suspicion of wrongdoing. The CIC then directed the executive director of Syndicate Bank to enquire into the matter. This is the 135th 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 executive director of Syndicate Bank to enquire into the matter where the Public Information Officer (PIO) failed to provide information related with a fraud and was giving varying statements.
While giving this judgement on 21 September 2011, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner said, “...the bench found the statements of the PIO varying, and in the case of reported fraud such different statements create suspicion of wrongdoing.”
East Delhi resident VK Bhardwaj, on 14 September 2010, sought information from the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Syndicate Bank's Regional Office at Meerut. Here is the information he sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act...
“In Meerut Main Branch on date 28 September 1991 on savings bank account (SB A/c) No40930 was fraudulently opened by so called ‘Rajeev Bharadwaj’, then on 9 October 1991 a credit of Rs3.85 lakh was sent to the above account. On 10 October 1991, an attempt was made to withdraw the said amount through fraudulent methods for which some of the then employees working in Meerut Main branch were served charge-sheets by the bank, so:
1. Who all employees were given charge-sheets that time?
2. Provide Photostat copies of the charge-sheets issued to the concerned employees.
3. Provide photocopies of the charge-sheet issued to one Rajeev Kumar, the then TSA in Meerut branch.
In his reply, the PIO stated that the information sought by the appellant (Bhardwaj) was related to “internal matter held under fiduciary relationship exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(e) of RTI Act-2005 and no public interest is seen”.
Aggrieved with the denial of information, Bhardwaj filed his first appeal in which he stated “Section 8 (1)(e) as claimed by the PIO was not applicable and the public interest is involved since it related to public money”.
The First Appellate Authority (FAA) in his order directed the PIO to furnish a fresh reply within 15 working days from the date of receipt of copy of his order.
Following the order from the FAA, the PIO sent reply to Bhardwaj. The PIO stated, “The sought documents/records pertain to 1999, which were not available now. As per bank’s policy such documents are not preserved beyond 8 years as informed earlier.”
Bhardwaj then approached the CIC with his second appeal. In the appeal, he said, “The information provided the PIO was wrong and misleading as the documents which he is not providing were available in the concerned office.”
During the hearing, Mr Gandhi, the then CIC, noted that the PIO had refused to give information claiming that information about people alleged to have committed fraud was held by the bank in a fiduciary capacity. According to the PIO, the FAA on 26 November 2010 decided that the information should be provided within 15 days. The PIO, Arun Kumar Tyagi, further stated that he informed the appellant on 4 December 2010 that the information was not kept for more than eight years. 
Mr Gandhi asked the PIO whether information relating to a fraud is destroyed in eight years as well. The PIO replied that that information relating to frauds is not destroyed in eight years.
Then Tyagi, the PIO, claimed that the information sought by Bhardwaj was stolen or missing. 
While allowing the appeal, the bench directed Ravi Chatterjee, executive director of Syndicate Bank, to inquire into this matter and send a report to the appellant and the Commission before 30 October 2011. 
The PIO stated that the person responsible for refusing the information was not him but BP Udpa, the then PIO. 
Mr Gandhi said, from the fact before the bench, it appeared that the PIO is 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 (Udpa) 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 FAA has clearly ordered the information to be given.  
The bench then issued a show-cause notice to BP Udpa, the then PIO, and asked him to present before the CIC along with his written submissions showing cause why penalty should not be imposed on him as mandated under Section 20 (1). The Bench also directed Udpa to submit proof of having given the information to the appellant. 
Decision No. CIC/SM/A/2011/000653/SG/14723
Appeal No. CIC/SM/A/2011/000653/SG
Appellant                                    :              VK Bhardwaj 
                                                                      East Delhi-51
Respondent                               :               (1) Arun Kumar Tyagi
                                                                      PIO & Dy. General Manager,
                                                                      Syndicate Bank, Regional Office, 
                                                                      Bhawani Puram, University Road, ,
                                                                      Meerut- 250 004 (UP)
                                                      :               (2) Ravi Chatterjee, 
                                                                      Executive Director, 
                                                                      Syndicate Bank, Corporate Office, 
                                                                      Gandhi Nagar, Bengaluru
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