Respondent: RTI application was received in DDA and is not traceable - CIC: In the light of the admission of utter neglect, casual and callous disregard to the provisions of the RTI Act, investigate and fix responsibility of the concerned official
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 04 points in respect of Flat Number C-1, 164, details of payment plan for the said flat along with dates for the payment of instalments; the date on which the possession of the said flat would be granted; number of properties for which the possession of flats had been transferred, etc
The Assistant Director (RTI)/PIO, vide its letter dated 12.12.2017, transferred the RTI application to the Assistant Director (Housing Scheme-17)/PIO, DDA, for necessary action at their end. Dissatisfied due to non-receipt of any response from the concerned CPIO, the Appellant approached the FAA. The APIO, vide its letter dated 06.03.2018, transferred the Appeal to the FAA, DDA, New Delhi, for necessary action. The reply of the CPIO / Order of the FAA, if any, is not on the record of the Commission.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present: Appellant: Mr. Vinod Singhla along with Adv. Vivek Gupta; Respondent: Ms. Nidhi Kanojia, Assistant Director;
The Appellant reiterated the contents of the RTI application and stated that despite repeated reminders to the DDA, no reply had been received for the last two years and therefore enraged by the callousness and utter neglect exhibited by the Respondent, he desired that penal action be initiated against the concerned official and compensation be granted for lack of due diligence and disrespect to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. In its reply, the Respondent while acknowledging the delay in attending to the RTI application submitted that the RTI application remained untraced due to heavy pressure of work and inadequate staff. Only on receipt of the notice of hearing, the application was attended to and replied.
The Commission was also in receipt of a written submission from the Respondent, Housing Scheme 2014/17 Branch dated 07.11.2019, wherein it was submitted that the RTI application of the Appellant dated 07.12.2017 was received in DDA and the same was forwarded to their office by RTI Cell on 12.12.2017 and the Appeal dated 05.03.2018 was also forwarded on 13.03.2018. The RTI application was not traceable, however, the RTI Appeal was diarised in their office and the same was handed over to the then Dealing Assistant Shri Govind Singh, who had not put up the same to the PIO/FAA and that he had retired in January, 2019. It was also mentioned that Shri Harish Chander who had since retired and Smt. Suman Madan, PIO/Assistant Director was transferred from Housing Department. Shri G. S. Badwal, FAA/Dy. Director was also transferred from Housing Department in the month of September, 2019. Furthermore, it was submitted that the information sought by the Appellant was already available in the brochure of the Housing Scheme, 2017 and Demand-cum-Allotment letter dated 15.02.2018 issued to the Applicant and that other information asked by him was hypothetical in nature. However, the information sought by the Appellant was enclosed Para-wise and the delay caused was deeply regretted.
Having heard both the parties at length and on perusal of the available records, the Commission observed that a timely response was not provided to the Appellant which was in contravention to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. In this context, the Commission referred to the judgment of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Mujibur Rehman vs Central Information Commission (W.P. (C) 3845/2007) (Dated 28 April, 2009) wherein it had been held as under:
“14.......The court cannot be unmindful of the circumstances under which the Act was framed, and brought into force. It seeks to foster an "openness culture" among state agencies, and a wider section of "public authorities" whose actions have a significant or lasting impact on the people and their lives. Information seekers are to be furnished what they ask for, unless the Act prohibits disclosure; they are not to be driven away through sheer inaction or filibustering tactics of the public authorities or their officers. It is to ensure these ends that time limits have been prescribed, in absolute terms, as well as penalty provisions. These are meant to ensure a culture of information disclosure so necessary for a robust and functioning democracy.”
A reference was drawn to the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of J.P Agrawal v. Union of India-2013(287) ELT25(Del.) wherein it was held as under:
7.“it is the PIO to whom the application is submitted and it is 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.”
Furthermore, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of R.K. Jain vs Union of India, LPA No. 369/2018, dated 29.08.2018, held as under:
“9………………………….. That apart, the CPIO being custodian of the information or the documents sought for, is primarily responsible under the scheme of the RTI Act to supply the information and in case of default or dereliction on his part, the penal action is to be invoked against him only.”
Moreover, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of Shri Vivek Mittal v. B.P. Srivastava, W.P.(C) 19122/2006 dated 24.08.2009 had upheld the view of the CIC and observed that
“…..The Act as framed, castes obligation upon the CPIOs and fixes responsibility in case there is failure or delay in supply of information. It is the duty of the CPIOs to ensure that the provisions of the Act are fully complied with and in case of default, necessary consequences follow”.
A reference can also be made to the decision of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in the matter of Block Development Officer, Paonta Sahib vs. State Information Commission and Anr., CWP No. 6072 of 2012 dated 27.06.2018 wherein it was held as under:
“9. It is vehemently urged by learned counsel for the petitioner that the impugned order suffers from vice of arbitrariness and, therefore, should be quashed and set aside. It was further argued that the petitioner on receipt of the application had transferred it to the concerned authorities and, therefore, there was no lapse on his part. He would also urge that the petitioner did not know the intricacies of the RTI Act and, therefore, he could not have been penalized.
10. I find no merit in the contention put-forth by the petitioner. It is more than settled that ignorance of law can be no excuse. Once the petitioner is designated as PIO, then all the more he is deemed to have knowledge and even otherwise the least that was required of him was to have acquainted himself thoroughly with the provisions of the RTI Act. Therefore, the explanation as sought to be put-forth by the petitioner at this stage clearly reflects the lackadaisical attitude of the petitioner. The only reasonable explanation for the cause of delay can be accepted and not lame excuses.”
The Commission also noted that it should be the endeavour of the CPIO to ensure that maximum assistance should be provided to the RTI applicants to ensure the flow of information. In this context, the Commission referred to the OM No.4/9/2008-IR dated 24.06.2008 issued by the DoP&T on the Subject “Courteous behavior with the persons seeking information under the RTI Act, 2005” wherein it was stated as under:
“The undersigned is directed to say that the responsibility of a public authority and its public information officers (PIO) is not confined to furnish information but also to provide necessary help to the information seeker, wherever necessary.”
Furthermore, in OM No. 20/10/23/2007-IR dated 09.07.2009, while elaborating on the duties and responsibilities of the FAA, it was stated that:
“3. Deciding appeals under the RTI Act is a quasi judicial function. It is, therefore, necessary that the appellate authority should see that the justice is not only done but it should also appear to have been done. In order to do so, the order passed by the appellate authority should be a speaking order giving justification for the decision arrived at.
5..............................The Act provides that the first appellate authority would be an officer senior in rank to the CPIO. Thus, the appellate authority, as per provisions of the Act, would be an officer in a commanding position vis a vis’ the CPIO. Nevertheless, if, in any case, the CPIO does not implement the order passed by the appellate authority and the appellate authority feels that intervention of higher authority is required to get his order implemented, he should bring the matter to the notice of the officer in the public authority competent to take against the CPIO. Such competent officer shall take necessary action so as to ensure implementation of the RTI Act. ”
The Commission observed that there is complete negligence and laxity in the public authority in dealing with the RTI applications. It is abundantly clear that such matters are being ignored and set aside without application of mind which reflects disrespect towards the RTI Act, 2005 itself. The Commission expressed its displeasure on the casual and callous approach adopted by the respondent in responding to the RTI application. It was felt that the conduct of Respondent was against the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 which was enacted to ensure greater transparency and effective access to the information.
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties and in the light of the admission of the Respondent for its utter neglect, casual and callous disregard to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, the Commission directs Mr. Rajesh Kumar, Pr. Commissioner (Housing), DDA, to depute an officer of an appropriate seniority to investigate and to fix responsibility and accountability on the concerned official within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this order. A copy of the action taken in the matter should be reported to the Appellant with a copy to the Commission for its perusal.
The Commission also instructs the Respondent Public Authority to convene periodic conferences/seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of its duties and responsibilities. The Appeal stands disposed with the above direction.
Citation: Mr. Vinod Singhla v. CPIO PIO & Asst. Director (Housing Scheme-17) Delhi Development Authority and CPIO Asst. Director (RTI)/PIO Delhi Development Authority (RTI Implementation & Coord. Branch) in Second Appeal No.:- CIC/DDATY/A/2018/127726-BJ, Date of Decision: 15.11.2019