CIC: When a woman below poverty line was surviving on pension from social welfare department, the RTI request about non-payment of pension is information about ‘life and liberty’ of appellant requiring a response within 48 hours
When a woman below poverty line was surviving on pension from social welfare department, non-payment of pension would cause a serious problem of living, the RTI request about non-payment of pension is information about ‘life and liberty’ of appellant and the respondent authority should have responded to within 48 hours. The stand taken by the respondent authority that the pension is stopped as there was no bank account is unreasonable and not acceptable. Going by reasonability, common sense and legal duty, the respondent authority would have continued paying pension to the appellant through the Post Office Account, till she got the account opened in the bank. CIC ordered payment of dues of pension Rs 43,500 with simple interest from due date to date of restoration and Rs 5000 as compensation. The public authority has to put in place a mechanism of not stopping the pension till the communication is reached the pensioners and respond to their general enquiries and RTI question very promptly without any delay, maximum in 48 hours from the date of receipt of request.
2. The appellant stated that she had been receiving pension from the department of women & Child development (WCD)/ Social welfare of the Delhi government under their pension scheme. Since April 2012 she stated that she stopped receiving pension from the department. The department did not proactively provide any information on why her pension was abruptly stopped. Despite repeated visits to the office of the department, it did not provide any information on the reasons for the stoppage of her pension. The last pension payment which she received from the government was on 6.3.2012 of Rs 4500 (Payment of 3 months of pension Viz – Jan to March 2012 @ Rs 1500 Per Month)
3. The appellant in her written submission stated that she had filed an RTI application dated 07.06.2013 seeking details about the status of her pension and the reasons for the stoppage of pension. The PIO provided an incomplete response dated 3072013 and therefore, she stated that she filed a First Appeal on 19072013. However, as she did not receive the order of the First Appellate Authority within the stipulated period, she filed Second Appeal before Central Information Commission on 27.08.2013. After the hearing of the Second Appeal on 11082014, she stated that she received the order of the FAA dated 30092013 in which the FAA directed the PIO to provide complete information within 10 days. However, she submitted that till date she has not received complete information as sought in her RTI application.
4. The appellant also submitted that the response given by the PIO Via letter dated 30.7.2013 was incomplete in the following way –
1. In response to Point No. 1 in which I had asked ‘Please provide information on why I have not received my pension for the last 18 months’, the PIO stated “Your Pension may have been stopped by the head office”. It appears that the PIO is basing the response on guess work by stating “may have been stopped” rather than providing factual information as per the records of the department. Further, the PIO stated that the reason why my pension “may have been stopped” was because I had not transferred my account from a post office to the bank. This is incorrect and misleading information as I had opened a bank account in Syndicate bank on 4.08.2012 and attached a copy of the same along with my RTI application.
2. In Point 3 of my RTI, I have asked for a copy of the order which defines the frequency of the payment of pension benefits. Till date, the PIO has not provided a copy of the relevant order.
5. The appellant further submitted that despite the Order of the FAA, the PIO did not provide a revised complete response. The PIO did not even provide complete information at the hearing of the Second Appeal on 11082014. Further the department also violated Section 4 of the RTI Act by 3
a) Not proactively displaying the list of beneficiaries in the office premises.
b) Not informing me of the reasons for its administrative decision to stop my pension.
6. The appellant also prayed before the Commission that her appeal be considered for awarding compensation for the loss suffered by her she was not provided the requisite information in a timely manner. Sec 4 (1)(d) of the RTI Act states: “4(1) Every Public authority shall Provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons.” Section 4 (3) and (4) of the RTI Act obligates the public authority to disseminate the information as follows:
(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), every information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public.
(4) All materials shall be disseminated taking into consideration the cost effectiveness, local language and the most effective method of communication in that local area and the information should be easily accessible, to the extent possible in electronic format with the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, available free or at such cost of the medium or the print cost price as may be prescribed.
Explanation.—For the purposes of subsections
(3) and (4), "disseminated" means making known or communicated the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet or any other means, including inspection of offices of any public authority.
The appellant stated that under Section 4 (1)(d), WCD was obligated to Suomotu inform her about the decision taken by it to stop her pension payments. If the department had provided complete information about its decision with respect to her pension, it would have enabled her to challenge the department’s decision to stop her pension or at least make alternative arrangements for her financial security. She stated that she is extremely poor and old and is wholly dependent on the pension given by the department.
7. Appellant also stated that “since the stoppage of my pension in March 2012, without any information being provided to me, I have suffered immensely and have been unable to buy even the basic necessities like food grains and medicines for my survival. I have had to resort to asking neighbors to donate some food for me, in order to survive.” Sec 19 (8)(b) of the RTI Act “(b) Require the public authority to compensate the complainant for any loss or other detriment suffered;”
8. Appellant further stated that from the moment the department took the decision to stop her pension, it was obligated under sec 4 (1) (d) of the RTI Act to inform her about the decision and the reasons thereof. Further the departments did not provide complete information even when she filed an RTI application on 07.06.2013, seeking information on why she had stopped receiving her pension. 9. Appellant, therefore, requested the Commission to compensate the loss suffered by her as a result of not giving information in time as prescribed under the RTI Act.
10. The appellant requested the Commission to direct the department to pay dues calculated up to Rs 43,500, as follows:
1. Amount of old age pension– Rs. 1500 per month.
2. No. of months pension was not provided (without informing the decision to stop pension) –
29 months (From April 2012 to August 2014)
3. Amount due: (Rs. 1500 x 29 Months) Rs.43,500
11. The appellant submitted that as the PIO did not provide revised complete response despite the Order of FAA and also that till date complete information as sought by her had not been provided and therefore a delay of more than 100 days had occurred. Further as the PIO provided incorrect and misleading information, she prayed that on PIO the maximum penalty of Rs. 25000 should be imposed.
12. The respondent officer Mrs. Abha Singh on the other hand, submitted that the appellant might not have shifted her account from Post Office to the Bank, which has become mandatory for getting the pension. Officer from respondent public authority further explained that as there is no application from the appellant for transferring the account from Post Office to the Bank, the head office has stopped the payment of pension to the appellant. She expressed her inability to intimate this reason to the appellant, as she was dealing with more than one lakh pension applicants. They were organizing public awareness camps in this respect, so that the pensioners like the appellants should have known this.
13. Both the parties made their submissions. The Commission finds that the PIO has failed to give the above information to the appellant, at least in response to her RTI application. In spite of FAA order, the appellant was not given proper information. The Commission views this as a serious lapse on the part of the PIO, as a poor, uneducated and oldaged pensioner like the appellant is not expected to get updated through the public awareness camps or through the newspaper reports or accessing to internet. Not giving this information to her in response to RTI application is a serious dereliction of duty on the part of public authority and thus a violation of her right to information.
14. The Commission, therefore, directs the respondent authority to inform the appellant within fifteen days from the date of receipt of this order, as to when they are going to pay all the dues of pension, as per the latest calculation and entitlement of appellant which could be Rs 43,500 (Rs 1500 x 29 months) or whatever amount is due from date of due to date of payment with simple rate of interest. The Commission also directs the respondent authority in order to compensate the losses incurred by the appellant a token amount of Rs. 5,000 shall be paid to her for stopping her old age pension for no fault of appellant without any information.
15. The then PIO is also directed to show cause why maximum penalty cannot be imposed on him for not complying with FAA Order. The PIO’s explanation should reach the Commission within 3 weeks from the date of receipt of this order.
16. The Commission further observes that the RTI request of the appellant is a ’life and liberty’ related request and the respondent authority should have responded to within 48 hours. The Commission found inordinate delay in addressing the appellant’s case. The stand taken by the respondent authority that the pension is stopped as there was no bank account is unreasonable and not acceptable. Going by reasonability, common sense and legal duty, the respondent authority would have continued paying pension to the appellant through the Post Office Account, till she got the account opened in the bank. The Commission directs the respondent authority to file information with the Commission as to – the number of such cases, where the pension is stopped, within 3 weeks from the date of receipt of this order.
17. The Commission recommends the public authority to put in place a mechanism of not stopping the pension till the communication is reached the pensioners and respond to their general enquiries and RTI question very promptly without any delay, maximum in 48 hours from the date of receipt of request.
18. The Commission orders accordingly.
(M. Sridhar Acharyulu)
Citation: Ms. Sumitra Devi v. Women and Child Development Department, GNCTD in File No.CIC/DS/A/2013/001589SA