Kerala: Missing files not a valid excuse for denial of information under RTI Act
In the past, the RTI applicants had faced a strange situation where the Public Information Officer (PIO) replied that the information cannot be provided as the record is missing. In the absence of records, the PIO pleaded, the information sought by the applicant cannot be provided. When such cases came up in second appeal before the Information Commission, the view taken by the different benches was dissimilar. In appeal against a CIC order which rejected the pleas by public authorities that files containing the information sought for are missing / not traceable taking the stand that they could not be deemed as a valid exemption under the RTI Act as they discourage the very objective of the Act, the Delhi High Court upheld the view of the CIC.
A circular issued by Special Secretary to the State Government of Kerala P S Gopakumar, now puts an end to the possible use of such an excuse by the PIO. A public authority is duty bound to initiate action if a public record is lost / missing. As per the Public Records Act – 1993, breach is punishable with imprisonment up to 5 years or fine, or both.
As per the circular, unless it is proved that a record was destroyed as per the prescribed rules of the destruction / retention policy, it is deemed that the record is held by the concerned public authority. Hence mere expiry of the expiry of the retention period cannot be taken as the valid reason for the denial of information. The circular asks all government institutions in the State to formulate a record retention schedule, publish the same on their websites and also ensure that records are destroyed only in accordance with such a policy.
Activists have welcomed the step as a major step towards ensuring proper response to RTI queries under the RTI Act and hoped that it would put an end to the practice of deliberate “missing” of important files. They have demanded that a similar circular should be issued by DoPT.