New Delhi: In a peculiar case, the Central Information Commission, or CIC, the apex body that makes sure citizens are able to access public information, has censured its own office for misplacing a right to information, or RTI, application that had questioned its performance.
Calling it “a distinct failure in the registry of this commission,” CIC ordered an official to find out how the RTI application disappeared. It has since admonished its officers and asked them to “ensure that no such failure recurs.”
Informed: Chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah. (Photo: Madhu Kapparath/ Mint)
In an application on 22 November 2006, Shaji M.K., a Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, resident had asked the commission’s central public information officer for the number of public information officers in various government departments who were found guilty of violating provisions of the RTI Act, the action that has been taken against them, and the number of second appeals citizens have filed. Second appeals follow a first appeal that are made when an RTI application elicits no or inadequate response.
Significantly, the applicant also asked whether CIC had decided on any time frame for deciding second appeals, since the Act does not set a deadline.
Shaji’s application remained unanswered, and he filed an appeal on 12 December 2006, which, too, remained unanswered. So, he filed another appeal on 5 February 2007, asking for fines to be imposed for every day that his information was delayed. He later received the information he had asked for, except regarding his query on the time frames for deciding second appeals by CIC. He was told that the particular RTI application was not received by the responding authority.
Shaji appealed against this information to a full bench of CIC. During the hearing, the commission’s bench, headed by chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, noted that the department of posts had clarified to Shaji that his application had been delivered to the commission.
“This case identifies a distinct failure in the registry of this commission since the letters of the department of posts clearly indicate that the application and first appeal had been actually delivered,” the commission said.
On 25 February, CIC ordered an internal inquiry into the matter by Tarun Kumar, joint secretary of administration at its office. Kumar submitted his report on 7 April, pinning the fault on the shifting of the postage counter of the commission to a new address in Bhikaji Cama Place here as the reason for the disappearance. It, however, did not explain how other documents at the counter were not misplaced during this period.
“It is interesting that the missing document deals with the functioning of the commission itself and about whether it has set up deadlines and time-frames for its judgements. Citizens and RTI litigants look to the commission for the final word on RTI, a final means to get information. So, the processing system must be improved if that is where the problem lies,” said Supreme Court advocate Harish Salve.
“It is a fact that there is no time frame for the commission to decide on an appeal. So, the applicant’s request was a valid one and something that every person concerned with RTI is interested in. The case should be a caution to CIC to avoid such incidents in other RTI requests,” said Supreme Court advocate M.K. Kulkarni, who has followed the progress and implementation of the RTI Act since it started in 2005.
The commission has, in its final order of 10 April, directed the section officer of the postage counter to “ensure that no such failure recurs,” and directed its secretary to oversee streamlining of the department so that applications against non-issue of information by the government do not go missing within the body meant to safeguard the people’s right to information.