CIC expressed its deep displeasure over the poor handling of the RTI matters by the Sangeet Natak Akademi ignoring the spirit of the law - CIC directed the Secretary to examine the matter and fix responsibility; FAA advised to be alert and cautious
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information regarding copy of the action taken with complete file noting on 05 different correspondence file no(s) dated 16.07.2018/ 07.09.2018/ 22.10.2018/ 26.11.2018 and 08.10.2018.
Dissatisfied due to non - receipt of any response from the CPIO, the Appellant approached the FAA. The order of the FAA, if any, is not on the record of the Commission. Thereafter, the Appellant filed a Second Appeal before the Commission with a request to provide information within 07 days.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Appellant: Mr. Chandranshu Mehta through Audio Conferencing; Respondent: Mr. Sanjay, Data Entry Operator (Unauthorized representative), on behalf of the CPIO Ms. Vinodi Sharma, CPIO & Deputy Secretary, through Audio Conferencing;
The Appellant reiterated the background of the case and submitted that complete and satisfactory information has not been received by him till date. In its reply, the unauthorized representative of the Respondent, CPIO submitted that a suitable reply has been furnished to the Appellant, vide letter dated 26th December, 2019 on points (1) to (5) of the RTI application. On being queried by the Commission regarding the date of FAA’s Order, the nominee of the CPIO feigned ignorance of the same. The Commission observes that almost after a delay of 10 months the RTI application of the Appellant was responded by the CPIO which contravenes the provisions of 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, 2005. It shows that the CPIO is not aware of the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and she has scant respect for the law whose intent is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Public Authority.
The Commission was in receipt of a written submission from the Appellant dated Nil which is taken on record wherein a copy of CPIO’s reply dated 26th December, 2019 was attached for reference.
The Commission was in receipt of a written submission from the Respondent dated 09th April, 2021 which is taken on record.
The Commission observed that the RTI Act, 2005 stipulates time limits in its various provisions relating to responding to RTI Applications, transfer of applications, filing and disposing of first appeal to ensure that a culture of information dissemination is strengthened so that a robust functioning of the democracy gets established. This was recognised by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Mujibur Rehman vs Central Information Commission (W.P. (C) 3845/2007)(Dated 28 April, 2009) wherein it was 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.”
The Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of J.P Agrawal v. Union of India-2013(287) ELT25(Del.) 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. 8..............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 nondisclosure.”
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 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.”
A reference can also be made to the decision of 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, wherein it was 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.”
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.”
The Commission observed that the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of Kamal Bhasin v. Radha Krishna Mathur and Ors., W.P.(C) 7218/2016 dated 01.11.2017 had held as under:
“6. In the present case, the petitioner stands as a relator party as he is also one of the complainants. The petitioner is not seeking any personal information regarding respondent No. 3, but merely seeks to know the outcome of the complaint made by him and other such complaints. The PFC Officers Association had pointed out certain conduct which according to them was irregular and warranted disciplinary action; thus, they would be certainly entitled to know as to how their complaints have been treated and the results thereof.
The Commission thus 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, the Commission expressed its deep displeasure over the poor handling of the RTI matters in the public authority ignoring the spirit of the law as also the recalcitrant attitude of Ms. Vinodi Sharma, CPIO & Deputy Secretary of the Respondent Public Authority for not remaining present herself in the matters listed for hearing today even after being allowed to present herself in an “Audio conferencing / Telephonic conferencing” on a request due to COVID situation. The Commission therefore, directs the Secretary, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Rabindra Bhawan, New Delhi to examine the matter and fix responsibility and accountability on the concerned officials for not furnishing a clear, cogent and precise reply / information within the stipulated time frame prescribed in the RTI Act, 2005 and intimate the same to the Appellant / Commission within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this order.
The Commission further instructs the Respondent, CPIO to provide complete point wise information to the Appellant as sought in the RTI application viz. the copy of ATR along with the copy of file noting, as available on record, in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 strictly within a period of 21 days from the date of receipt of this order under intimation to the Commission failing which penal action under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005 could be initiated.
It is appalling to note that the FAA has also not acted in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 in this matter and therefore is advised to be alert and cautious in the implementation of the RTI Act, 2005 with due diligence and care.
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 directions.
Citation: Mr. Chandranshu Mehta v. Sangeet Natak Akademi in Second Appeal No.:- CIC/SANAK/A/2019/120885-UM, Date of Decision: 16.04.2021