CIC: CSIR to make necessary changes to practices in relation to coordinating the redressal of grievances mechanism with the RTI of citizens including employees & respond promptly & properly to the RTI applications reflecting the grievances or complaints
1. Appellant sought action taken report on his complaint against unjustifiable recovery of excess amount paid from Pension payable to his father, Late S.R. Srinivasan, which is against the GoI Office Memorandum No. F. No. 18/03/2015 (Est. Pay-I) dated 2nd Mar,2016, along with file noting in this regard, papers connected with securing required approvals from the "Department of Expenditure, Govt. of India, communication made to the Bankers to stop any further recoveries from, and to credit back recoveries made to his father’s Pension, pending receipt of a formal approval from the "Department of Expenditure, relevant communication between CLRI and NML Jamshedpur. The CPIO replied on 19.07.2017 that no action had been taken with regard to approvals from the Department of Expenditure, and no communication had been made to the bankers to stop any recoveries from and to his father’s pension. Vide order dated 28.08.2017, the First Appellate Authority stated that the appeal was in nature of grievance and outside the scope of RTI Act.
2. The officer told the Commission that pension papers were sent by the Jamshedpur Laboratory to the Chennai Office, accordingly, the Chennai office was paying pension along with additional 20 per cent old age pension to the appellant. The bank, by mistake added another 20 percent to the pension of appellant’s father. When another pay fixation circular from Jamshedpur reached Chennai CLRI, officer concerned found excess payment being made, and since March 2017 the actual pension was being paid to him along with recovery of Rs 24000 per month, ultimately the pension being paid is Rs. 48,608 per month. The appellant says as per Supreme Court observation, such recovery is impermissible in law. The appellant has got all the information but he was complaining against recovery from pension of excessive payment by mistake, which is against the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment and the circular. He also complained that after demise of his father, the bank has blocked the account of his mother which resulted in non-payment of pension.
3. The CPIO has given information promptly as he could. The CPIO maintained that he cannot answer some of the opinion related questions raised by the appellant, under RTI Act, i.e., he cannot say anything on propriety or legality of recovery of the amount from pension. The First appellate authority was also correct in saying that this matter was not exactly the RTI request but expression of grievance. However because RTI applicant was seeking response to a problem regarding his father’s pension, the FAA cannot turn it down saying redressal of grievance is out of scope of RTI Act. Most of the information requests from employees and people in general are about the issues of governance. Mistaken excessive payment and recovery from pension are such governance issues, about which the complaint has been raised. The public authority has a duty to prevent such mishaps in pension payments, especially in view of the Circular and the Supreme Court order. Pension is necessary either for the old man or his wife to sustain the post-retirement life. Deduction of substantial amount from life sustaining pension of a senior citizen and blocking the account of his widow will result in a serious problem for the old woman (mother of appellant) and also shows that all is not well with the governance. The CPIO cannot give opinion, but nothing stops the public authority from responding to his complaint. If not CPIO, some other responsible officer should say whether recovery was legally correct or not, and whatever may be the result, that has to be communicated to the appellant. Frequently public authorities raise an issue that RTI does not include redressal and stone wall the RTI requests. Using RTI for redressal of grievance is not misuse of RTI. But rejected the RTI request or appeal saying redressal is not part of RTI Act, will amount to abdication of governance responsibility and denial of right to information of appellant about action on his complaint.
4. The objective of RTI Act is to make the public authorities accountable for such wrongs. The RTI request in this case thus questions the mistakes of the public authority, which has a duty to answer. Even if it is a complaint, the authority has a duty to redress that grievance. Though redressal cannot be directed, information about it has to be directed. Citizen has every right to seek action related information on his complaint and the Information Commission has every authority to direct the same under RTI Act. It is sad that the First Appellate Authority contradicted this right and duty. The public authority shall have two robust systems/ mechanisms to deal with grievances/complaints, onefor its employees and the other for the people affected by their actions/inactions and misdeeds. It is part of their core duties as public authority and seeking information about their performance of duty or inaction will make the authorities accountable and answerable. Some officers even went to the extent of saying that using RTI for redressal of grievance is the misuse. In reality not acting on complaints and RTI questions, or maintaining such working conditions that would generate complaints are questions of governance, besides being issues of accountability.
5. Every public authority should understand that redressal of grievances, as such, is not out of scope of RTI Act, because citizens as a matter of right should have access to information about redressal under Right to Information Act. Can any public authority say that it would sit over the complaints/representations, does not promptly address them, and also refuse to tell what action they have taken or why action was not taken or what are the reasons for the delay? This is an issue of inaction and refusal to give information about the action on complaint, which cannot be refused under RTI Act. Those PIOs and authorities who developed a system of rejecting RTI applications on this pretext should understand that information about redressal cannot be refused under RTI Act, and doing so will attract Section 20 of RTI Act.
6. The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, was introduced in Parliament in 2011. Besides UPA, it had the support of the BJP and other opposition parties. However with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha, the Bill, which had been tabled in the Rajya Sabha, also lapsed.
7. The essence of the proposed law was that every public authority will be required to publish a citizens’ charter that will set out the goods and services provided by it, along with timelines for their delivery. Some States have such legislation to guarantee right to public services delivery, but the Central law sought to provide an overarching framework. This bill has an RTI element. Every public authority is required to publish a citizens charter within six months of the commencement of the Act. The Charter will detail the goods and services to be provided and their timelines for delivery. A citizen may file a complaint regarding any grievance related to:
(a) citizens charter;
(b) functioning of a public authority; or
(c) violation of a law, policy or scheme.
According to this Bill the grievances are to be redressed within 30 working days. The Bill also provides for the appointment of Central and State Public Grievance Redressal Commissions and a penalty of up to Rs 50,000 may be levied upon the responsible officer or the Grievance Redressal Officer for failure to render services. Media reported that instead of introducing this bill, the Government is working on a scheme called the “Delivery of Services and Grievances Redressal Scheme”. A law would have given citizens legal entitlements to get government to deliver on time. A scheme provides for a recourse to more departmental procedures and actions, as the minister in-charge under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Jitendra Singh, had said in response to a question in Parliament in March 2016. When a Right to Information (RTI) application was filed by Amrita Johri of the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information in June 2016, the government said:
“Finalisation of Delivery of Services and Grievance Redress Scheme, which has been prepared by this department, is still under consideration.”
8. It was also reported the NDA government told in Parliament in 2014 and 2015 that it was committed to bringing in this legislation and PMO declared that the passage of the law, along with setting up of a Lok Pal and amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act, were immediate thrust areas for the government.
9. But in March 2016, the government told Parliament that it was not looking at legal justiciable rights for delivery of services but had “prepared” only a government scheme that would allow administrative action in case of deficiency in delivering services. (http://www.business-standard.com/article/currentaffairs/nda-dumps-the-id....) This means as on today that there is no mechanism of redressal of grievances either by law or scheme. Then the people have no other recourse except looking to the RTI Act, at least in a limited way for information about the redressal, if not the redressal itself.
10. In an article “RTI Act nor for grievance redressal but can aid in..” published in web portal (http://www.taxindiaonline.com/RC2/inside2.php3?file name=bnews_detail.php3&newsid=12757) Legal Executive of BHEL, Ms Shreysi Singh, wrote:
“Many people saw RTI not merely as a right to access the information residing in government records but also as a method of grievance redressal. To the dismay of many, RTI did not turn out to be grievance resolving system. Yet it needs to be appreciated that RTI provides information and information aids and facilitates problem solution. .. The RTI Act has been enacted solely for the purpose of providing information. All other provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 revolve around this right. The Preamble of the Right to Information Act, 2005 clearly spells out that “it’s an Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority ....” The Preamble also acknowledges the fact that “democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed;..”
11. Author questioned ‘is the purpose of the RTI Act, 2005 only to create an ‘informed citizenry'? Is transparency of information an end in itself? There are also issues of corruption and accountability. She said further:
A public authority is expected to act honestly, fairly and in accordance with law. Corruption and lack of accountability promote, facilitate and sustain dishonesty, inefficiency and nepotism in public offices. Many a grievance flows from these undesirable phenomena. The preamble to the RTI Act, 2005 does stress on curbing of corruption and promotion of accountability. An honest request for redressal of a grievance that arises from some act of corruption or non-observance of law and a request for information in this regard may ultimately have the same objective i.e. corruption should be exposed or the law should be correctly implemented. Hence, no conflict needs to be seen to be arising in a case where after narrating the grievance, the information seeker may raise queries in respect of his grievance. Author concluded saying: “RTI is not a grievance redressal system. But it may immensely assist in grievance redressal if used in an intelligent manner”.
12. In fact, most of the citizens are intelligently using the RTI Act to secure redressal. Even it a citizen has not couched his grievance like an RTI application, the problems like non-payment of dues, not delivering certificate, delay in giving ration card, cancelling voter ID, stopping the pension or not giving scholarship to the eligible person etc. are addressed and resolved before or after the matter reaches second appeal. If anybody filed a representation, waited for a reasonable period and filed an RTI request to know the action taken or reasons for inaction, it squarely falls under ‘information’ category. The RTI Act is intending to make the public authority accountable and somebody raising a request for information itself will reasonably expect that the grievance behind it is also being addressed. Of course, there is a far extreme consequence like attacking or eliminating the RTI applicants fearing the consequences of exposure of corruption through RTI.
13. The corruption is not the only reason for grievance generation. The lethargy and red-tapism is writ large in every office and the sitting over files and complaints is the well known strategy of denying the redressal, refusing the rights of the employees and the people affected by them. If they do not have redressal of grievances mechanism, they should introduce it. If they have that system, the RTI request reflecting grievance or complaint shall be referred to that system, and the concerned office has to give response on action taken on it within 30 days through the CPIO. If not the Commission can consider such officer who is in charge of redressal of grievance as deemed PIO and initiate penal proceedings against him along with the CPIO, who is equally responsible to respond to RTI application. The RTI Act became necessary to equip the citizens to fight the red-tape, lethargy, corruption, harassment and strategic inaction of public authorities and their servants.
14. Hence, the Commission exercising its authority under Section 19(8)(a)(iv) requires the public authority to make necessary changes to practices in relation to coordinating the redressal of grievances mechanism with the Right to Information of the citizens including employees and respond promptly and properly to the RTI applications reflecting the grievances or complaints. The Commission directs the Respondent Authority to consider this RTI application and appeal as a complaint and provide action taken report on complaint against recovery of pension and blocking the account of his mother’s pension, within 20 days from the date of receipt of this order. Disposed of.
(M. Sridhar Acharyulu)
Central Information Commissioner
Citation: S S Ramesh v. CSIR-Central Leather Research Institute in CIC/CRRIN/A/2017/170804 Decision date 28.11.2017