When Government formulated a scheme to give pensions to old aged widows and disabled persons below the poverty line and started paying pension, it is their duty to continue the payment or inform them pensions are scrapped as they do not afford to pay. Non-payment of pension and indecision about it reflects serious governance crisis. Mr. Charanjit Singh Bhatia asked regarding non-payment of pension to his wife as disabled person for 10 months (July 2014 to April 2015). There was no response from public authority.
Mr. Charanjit’s wife got only Rs.3000/- [@ Rs.1000/- pm] for the months of April-June, 2014 by cheque, which was delivered in February, 2015 8 months after, which was first and last payment received. He wrote several letters to the Chief Minister of Delhi about the lack of budgetary allocations, cause of non-payment. There is another issue; multiple transfers of the RTI application from CM office to a number of PIOs, spending huge amount of money on the correspondence and yielding nothing. The CMO informed the appellant that his RTI application was transferred to 4 PIOs of different departments namely Directorate of Local Bodies, Dept. of Planning, Dept of Finance and the Delhi Municipal Corporation-North (MCDN) and directed him to approach the concerned departments. He referred to one news-clipping of Hindustan Times in which the issue of non-payment of pension due to fund crunch was highlighted.
His application was transferred to 29 public authorities. Some of them transferred the application to each other again. For instance, the PIO/Local Bodies transferred to Dept of Social Welfare and two municipal corporations of Delhi. The appellant sought to know from the Commission whether there is any limit on transferring RTI applications under RTI Act, if not, is it not a major defect in the Act? Can Govt spend public money on such purposeless transfers? When the question was non-payment of pension, it is supposed to be decided by the office of the CM, and it cannot simply shirk its responsibility by transferring the RTI application to the MCD. The appellant referred to a news item dated 22-8-2015 wherein it was reported that the MCD told the High Court that it was asking the Government of Delhi to merge its old age pension scheme with the schemes of social welfare department. The MCD has a deficit of Rs.700 crores during 2015-16. A public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an NGO claimed that the municipal bodies have stopped paying pension under the social welfare schemes like old age pension/widow pension/disabled pension, etc. Though 73,000 persons were eligible to receive the benefit under the old age pension scheme, the SDMC was paying pension only to 63,914 persons till 30-9-2014. EDMC also stated in the Court that they were ready to continue the pension scheme covering 30,600 disabled/widow/old aged persons, subject to availability of funds. EDMC told the court that 107.52 crores of pension amount could not paid to the pensioners for 2 years due to lack of funds. The Delhi High Court has received a PIL filed by the BJP leaders seeking direction to the Government for funds allocation to the 3 municipal corporations. In the PIL filed by the Social Justice, an NGO, it was claimed that 1.5 lakh aged persons were not paid pension. The appellant has shown another press report dated 17-1-2016, wherein it was reported that the Civic body wants government to take over pension scheme partially. These media clippings reveal that the civic bodies are considering to do away with the disbursement of funds for these pension schemes.
Apart from the fund crunch, there appears to be a serious governance crisis as the appellant and the citizens similarly placed, are not getting any information under the RTI Act. The appellant in this case questioned how the government could permit its 38 departments to spend money in transferring his RTI application and build up huge number of files. Is there no financial crunch for such activity? He also questioned that the Govt representatives attending the hearings in 1st/2nd appeals, are using the govt vehicles or private taxies paid by office, for which funds are available. When the government does not release the funds for payment of pension, how can the civic bodies and the departments can give any information on non-payment of pension? The CMO should have replied the appellant that they are not in a position to release the funds and that they cannot pay pension. Instead they have transferred them to various departments without leading to disclosure of any information.
The appellant questioned why there as such a change after the new Government had taken over in 2014 and 2015? The Commission finds huge public interest in the RTI request filed by the appellant. It is a major human rights problem for lakhs of pensioners who are found eligible to receive pension according to the Govt schemes but not getting the pension. The CMO and other officers are not ready to inform the appellant why they are not paying the pension or when payment will be started. The Commission observes that it is the duty of the CMO to explain the status of pension dues and answer the question of violation of right to pension which is also a human right. It is the mandatory obligation of the CMO under the “Right of Citizen (time-bound delivery of the services) Act, 2011, which covers 371 services. As per another news clipping, shown by the appellant, the CM stated that due to wrong design of this Act, no claim for compensation has been filed so far for the last 3 years. According to this law, if a delivery of certificate was not done within 15 days, then from the 16th day, the compensation clause will click in automatically and the appellant should receive the compensation from the due date to the date of delivery of the certificate. The appellant asked what kind of remedy will be provided to him by the CMO? The Commission found it pathetic that such an high office like the CMO evolves an unhealthy practice of forwarding RTI applications for an unlimited period, thereby causing the denial of information to the appellant.
The Commission held: the CMO has not applied its mind to the serious issue raised by the appellant and acted like a post office by simply forwarding the appellant’s RTI application to other departments, who in turn, went on transferring to other departments. Surprisingly, the appellant is receiving number of papers from different departments, intimating that his application is transferred to other departments. But he did not receive information he required, as to why his wife did not receive the pension.
The Commission directed the CMO to furnish a white paper on the status of all kinds of pensions in Delhi Government, reasons for non-payment, time of resumption of payment of pension, time of payment of arrears, etc within 20 days from the date of receipt of this order.
The Commission further directed the CMO:a) to change the practice of routine transfer of RTI applications to the subordinate offices when the RTI application demands action from the CMO, b) to pay a compensation of Rs.1,00,000/- to the appellant and initiate action against all the PIOs who unnecessarily transferred the RTI application to others and recover Rs.100/- from each of these PIOs and the same may be credited to the CM welfare fund, andc) to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed against him and why disciplinary action should not be recommended against him for causing huge wastage of money and time by unnecessarily transferring the RTI application and delaying the process of communication of relevant information.
Read the order here.