The Central Information Commission has ordered an inquiry into the exchange of old currency notes after demonetisation at post office branches in Pinto Park and the Air Force area in south Delhi after an RTI applicant raised suspicion of fraud and irregularities in the exchange of currency.
Information Commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu ordered the inquiry into the exchange of notes at the two post offices – Pinto Park branch and the Wing Branch of post office in Air Force area.
While calling for inquiry report in 45 days, the CIC has directed the DG of Postal Services, office of the Finance Ministry, RBI and the PMO to take appropriate action on the findings.
The order comes on a complaint filed by RTI applicant Ramswaroop, who works in the MES (Military Engineer Services) department and is a resident of the Central Government Employees Residents Welfare Association in old Pinto Park.
He suspected something was wrong with the dispensation of the new currency notes to the residents of Old Pinto Park as none of them got the currency exchanged between November 8 and 25, 2016, and there was no outsider who entered the Association but the post office record showed exchange of a total notes worth Rs. 99,70,000.
Ramswaroop questioned if these two post offices have genuine basis or documents required permitting exchange of notes and moved RTI application demanding names of the persons who got the currency exchanged.
The information was denied to him but shared later on the orders of the CIC in May 2017.
However, to the surprise of the commission as well as the applicant, the names of the persons did not match with the residents of the locality, and as per the gate entries of those who came and left the colony, no outsider had entered the colony during those days (November 8 and 25, 2016), which gives rise to apprehension of a scam and manipulation of records.
“The Commission finds merit in his apprehension and the representation of Central Government Employees Residents Welfare Association, and recognizes the need for a probe by verifying the names of the persons who exchanged old currency notes, with the names of residents and outsiders entered as available at the gate-entry register and resident members of the Association.
“The Commission requires the First Appellate Authority of the respondent Department of Post offices, and submit the report to the Director General of Post Office, marking a copy to Reserve Bank of India, the Ministry of Finance, and the PMO, and mark report status of action taken to the appellant under intimation to this Commission within 45 days from the date of receipt of this order, and recommends the DG of Postal Services, office of the Finance Ministry, RBI and the PMO to take appropriate action on the findings,” CIC Sridhar Acharyulu noted.
The CIC referred to several news reports published post demonetisation revealing frauds, irregularities and wrongful exchange of currency notes.
Earlier, Acharyulu had taken strict view of the CPIO of the two post officers denying the information to the applicant on the ground that the list of persons who exchanged notes was not available in a consolidated form. The first appellate authority went to the extent of claiming that the information sought was personal in nature.
“How much of money was transacted during the days of demonetization is the information query of larger public interest because that policy decision of the Union Government has huge impact on each and every person’s life in the country. The exchange occurred in Air Force Area post offices might have assumed more significance.
“If someone wants to study the impact of such a significant policy, the state has a duty to facilitate dissemination of the information about demonetization. Any attempt to withhold information about demonetization will generate serious doubts about the economy. If the appellant wanted to assess the impact of demonetization in an area, why the Post Office should stop it,” the CIC asked.
It cited Section 4(1) of the RTI Act which provides for publication of all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public.
“Perhaps, none is left out from the impact of demonetization. Every person’s economy was affected and even the beggar, rickshaw puller, push-cart seller, money-less poor reeled under this stroke. If the suffering was just temporary and there will be windfalls in future, let that also be told to the people officially by each and every public authority concerned with the demonetization. It is very difficult to reconcile with the attitude of building steel-forts that could not be broken even by Baahubali, around the public affair of demonetization in a democratic nation, if governed by Rule of Law.
“It is the duty of every public authority to spell out all relevant facts and reasons besides giving details at least in the post-demonetization period. The Post Offices of Air Force area have responsibility to respond positively to the RTI request on demonetization in that area,” the CIC observed.