PIOs to “deal with” the request for information and to “render reasonable assistance” to the applicants
Delhi HC : Designated PIO cannot act merely as a POST-OFFICE
[ J.P. Agrawal Vs. UOI and Ors, W.P. (C) 7232/2009, HC of Delhi.]
For : Chief IC & ICs
Cc : Secretary, AS & all JSs
Sub : Designated PIO cannot act merely as a POST-OFFICE
Respected Chief IC & ICs,
1. I am attaching an important Order of Delhi High Court outlining the accountability and responsibility of an designated CPIO, who more often behave like Post-Office.
2. There may be many such cases but as per my experience, the designated CPIO of an High Office, is a classic example of working like a Post-Office.
3. The Petitioner in this HC case is a designated PIO who was penalized under Section-20 of the act by this Commission.
4. Here, to facilitate quick browsing, I am also reproducing below Para 5 to Para 9 of the said Delhi High Court.
“5. The contention of the petitioner appears to be that he as PIO was merely required to forward the application for information to the officer concerned and/or in possession of the said information and to upon receipt of such information from the concerned officer furnish the same to the information seeker. He would thus contend that as long as he as PIO had acted with promptitude and forwarded the application to the officer in possession of the information and furnished the same to the information seeker immediately on receipt of such information, he cannot be faulted with and the liability for penalty if any has to be of such other officer from whom he had sought the information and cannot be his.
6. The argument aforesaid reduces the office of the PIO to that of a Post Office, to receive the RTI query, forward the same to the other officers in the department/administrative unit in possession of the information, and upon receipt thereof furnish the same to the information seeker. It has to be thus seen from a perusal of the Act, whether the Act envisages the role of a PIO to be that of a mere Post Office.
7. Section 4 of the Act obliges every public authority to publish inter alia the particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information and the names, designations and other particulars of the PIOs. Section 5 requires the public authorities to designate PIO to provide information to persons requesting for information under the Act. Such PIOs, under Section 5(2) of the Act are to receive applications for information and under Section 5(3) of the Act are to deal with request from persons seeking information and render reasonable assistance to the information seekers. The Act having required the PIOs to “deal with” the request for information and to “render reasonable assistance” to the information seekers, cannot be said to have intended the PIOs to be merely Post Offices as the petitioner would contend. The expression “deal with”, in Karen Lambert Vs. London Borough of Southwark(2003) EWHC 2121 (Admin) was held to include everything right from receipt of the application till the issue of decision thereon. Under Section 6(1) and 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, it is the PIO to whom the application is submitted and it is he who is responsible for ensuring that the information as sought is provided to the applicant within the statutory requirements of the Act. Section 5(4) is simply to strengthen the authority of the PIO within the department; if the PIO finds a default by those from whom he has sought information, the PIO is expected to recommend a remedial action to be taken. The RTI Act makes the PIO the pivot for enforcing the implementation of the Act.
8. Even otherwise, the very requirement of designation of a PIO entails vesting the responsibility for providing information on the said PIO. As has been noticed above, penalty has been imposed on the petitioner not for the reason of delay which the petitioner is attributing to respondent no.4 but for the reason of the petitioner having acted merely as a Post Office, pushing the application for information received, to the respondent no.4 and forwarding the reply received from the respondent no.4 to the information seeker, without himself “dealing” with the application and/or “rendering any assistance” to the information seeker. The CIC has found that the information furnished by the respondent no.4 and/or his department and/or his administrative unit was not what was sought and that the petitioner as PIO, without applying his mind merely forwarded the same to the information seeker. Again, as aforesaid the petitioner has not been able to urge any ground on this aspect. The PIO is expected to apply his / her mind, duly analyse the material before him / her and then either disclose the information sought or give grounds for non-disclosure. A responsible officer cannot escape his responsibility by saying that he depends on the work of his subordinates. The PIO has to apply his own mind independently and take the appropriate decision and cannot blindly approve / forward what his subordinates have done.
9. This Court in Mujibur Rehman Vs. Central Information Commission MANU/DE/0542/2009 held that information seekers are to be furnished what they ask for and are not to be driven away through filibustering tactics and it is to ensure a culture of information disclosure that penalty provisions have been provided in the RTI Act. The Act has conferred the duty to ensure compliance on the PIO. This Court in Vivek Mittal Vs. B.P. SrivastavaMANU/DE/4315/2009 held that a PIO cannot escape his obligations and duties by stating that persons appointed under him had failed to collect documents and information; that the Act as framed casts obligation upon the PIO to ensure that the provisions of the Act are fully complied. Even otherwise, the settled position in law is that an officer entrusted with the duty is not to act mechanically. The Supreme Court as far back as in Secretary, Haila Kandi Bar Association Vs. State of Assam 1995 Supp. (3) SCC 736 reminded the high ranking officers generally, not to mechanically forward the information collected through subordinates. The RTI Act has placed confidence in the objectivity of a person appointed as the PIO and when the PIO mechanically forwards the report of his subordinates, he betrays a casual approach shaking the confidence placed in him and duties the probative value of his position and the report.”
5. For more; kindly read the attached order of Delhi HC.
6. Sir, this also makes it important to include in the Commission's Orders.......the names of designated CPIO, CPIO who responded (if different), FAA and the representative of Public Authority who represented the designated CPIO during the hearings in the Commission. Section-19(5) of the Act is also relevant.
7. This Communication is in Public domain.
Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.) IN -1967