Delay in RTI appeal attributed to one officer posted against four vacancies
The appellant filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) seeking information regarding establishment of 2 X 600 MW thermal power plant. He wanted the copy of application with annexure received in Ministry for forestry clearance and correspondence with State Government if any. The Public Information officer (PIO) informed the applicant that as the matter of RTI application pertains to the Regional Office (Central), Bhopal and the application has been transferred to them under section 6(3) of the RTI Act for furnishing the requisite information. He further stated that perhaps due to incorrect recording of the address of the appellant, a copy of the letter endorsed to him has not been received by him. The PIO attached the copy of the Ministry’s letter addressed to Regional Office, Bhopal whereby the appellant’s corrected address was intimated to them.
During the hearing before the Central Information Commission (CIC), the appellant stated that he has received the complete information from PIO, Regional Office Bhopal. The Commission held that the PIO at Regional Office Bhopal is guilty of not furnishing complete information within the time specified under section 7(1) Subject to the proviso to sub-section (2) of section 5 or the proviso to subsection (3) of section 6, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, on receipt of a request under section 6 shall, as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within thirty days of the receipt of the request, either provide the information on payment of such fee as may be prescribed or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in sections 8 and 9: of the RTI Act and issued a show cause notice to him to explain as to why penalty should not be levied on him under section 20 of the RTI Act. During the second hearing before the CIC when the hearing for imposition of penalty was done, the PIO at Regional Office Bhopal stated that the application was transferred late to him and reached him on 24/01/2012. He submitted that the he had replied on 28/02/2012 asking the appellant to deposit the additional fee of Rs.780/- for getting 390 pages of information. The appellant protested that the demand for fees was illegal since more than 30 days had passed since he filed the RTI Application. The PIO further stated in his written submission that there was a delay of 04 days since he was on some site inspection. Further, he was the only Indian Forest Service Officer posted in Regional Office Bhopal against the sanction strength of 04 officers and hence he was overloaded with work.
View of CIC
The Central Information commission (CIC) observed that the PIO has failed to understand that he was raising a completely unjustified demand for additional fee from the appellant. The Commission also stated that the delay could have been condoned if he had sent the information after a lapse of 04 days or even 10 days. The delay has occurred largely because he has failed to send the information free of cost once the period of 30 days was over. The commission noted that he sent the information on 10/04/2012 i.e. after a delay of 40 days and has failed to give any reasonable cause for this delay. Under section 20(1) Where the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be, at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion that the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, has, without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified under sub-section (1) of section 7 or malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroyed information which was the subject of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information, it shall impose a penalty of two hundred and fifty rupees each day till application is received or information is furnished, so however, the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed twenty-five thousand rupees: Provided that the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before any penalty is imposed on him: Provided further that the burden of proving that he acted reasonably and diligently shall be on the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be. of the RTI Act the Commission imposed a penalty of Rs. 10,000/- on the PIO.
The CIC has not taken note of the alleged delay on the part PIO of MoEF in transferring the application. Further, it appears from the reply of the PIO that he had little knowledge or understanding of the RTI Act and ought to have sought the additional fee within 30 days or should have supplied information free of cost thereafter. It raises the question whether delay attributed to overload of work needs to be considered before imposing any penalty.
Citation: Mr. Ramesh Agrawal v Ministry of Environment and Forest in Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2012/901028/18996Penalty
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/CIC/674
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