Has the home ministry enquiry file gone “missing”?
In a statement in the Rajya Sabha on the issue of alleged rape and murder of three minor girls in Bhandara, Maharashtra, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde had disclosed the names of victims. After the blunder was pointed out by Arun Jaitely, leader of Opposition, the names were expunged from the records of the House. Subsequently, the matter was taken up by the press and Shinde informed the reporters that the Home Secretary has been directed to investigate as to how these names formed the part of his statement in the house.
An application was filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking details related to the said inquiry. No reply was received to the RTI application and no hearing was granted on first appeal. The appellant approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) seeking imposition of penalty on the PIO under section 20 of the RTI Act.
The Ministry of Home has admitted before the CIC that the concerned file was not traceable in the ministry. The Public Information Officer (PIO) admitted the public authority could not send any response as the file was not traceable. The CIC observed "The respondent stated that without referring to the file it was difficult to provide a reply to the RTI application. Respondent stated that as per his knowledge there was no order from the government to conduct an enquiry but they had to confirm this fact from the file only…..Complainant stated that if file was not traceable the available facts should have been provided….. Within prescribed time under the RTI Act. Complainant stated that the respondent took the RTI Act very casually." The Commission further directed the PIO to show cause within 30 days "why action should not be taken against the respondent 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 for contravening the provisions of the Act".