Central Information Commissioner Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu has strongly recommended the use of postal stamps as RTI application fee. While disposing off a petition, he observed, “The Commission strongly recommends Department of Personnel and Training to adopt the one year old proposal of the Department of Posts, which is very user-friendly and avail the opportunity of giving New Year Gift to the citizen by permitting and publicising the use of ordinary Postal Stamps for payment of RTI fee, as this would go a long way in setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information. Accepting postal stamps for RTI fee would resolve many difficulties in payment, besides preventing wastage of public money in returning or rejecting the IPOs or spending much larger amounts than Rs 10, for realizing Rs 10, and avoidable litigation.”
The Complainant, Shri Raghubir Singh is a senior citizen of 75-years old and a law teacher who is associated with the making of the RTI Act before its enactment by the Government. The Commission heard him on the telephone as desired by him.
The complainant complained that the Directorate of Education has harassed him by raising meaningless technical issues. They had returned the Indian Postal Order of Rs.10/- saying that it is not properly drawn, when he claims to have rightly drawn in favour of the Accounts Officer. The Complainant objected to the returning of the Postal Order by PIO by speed post, for which he had to spend more than Rs.25/-. He complained that the Directorate has not updated its web-site and appropriate address against whom the Postal Order should be drawn or fee to be paid was not given.
The complaint was filed against the Directorate of Education had demanded information on 2 points: i) Which of the Government Secondary Schools in Delhi under the Directorate of Education, have introduced Punjabi teaching as a third language for the first time afresh in class VI in the academic year 2010-2014; ii) the number of such students enrolled in Class VI, School-wise.
The Commission hence directed the PIOs to check up whether every school has properly replied to the RTI application, if not fulfil the deficiencies. The Commisison also directed them to contact the Complainant on the telephone number given by him, and provide the complete information within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order.
The Commission referred to its earlier decision in S.C. Aggarwal vs. Ministry of Home Affairs wherein it had issued several directions. It had directed that, “no instrument shall be returned by any officer of the public authority on the ground that it has not been drawn in the name of a particular officer. So long as the instrument has been drawn in favour of the Accounts Officer, it shall be accepted in all circumstances” among several others.
These directions were mandatory and the Commission observed that non-compliance would lead to penalty proceedings. It observed, “The Commission finds it is a misuse of the power of PIO to reject to receive RTI application and the fee amounting to harassment of the applicant. It is also a kind of denial of information. Any kind of delay in furnishing of information on such grounds, violates the letter and spirit of RTI Act on several counts.”
In another second appeal by Mr. R.K. Jain as decided on 5th December, the CPIO of Department of Posts told the Commission that their department has given a proposal to DoPT vide letter dated 31.1.2014 suggesting that ordinary postal stamps could be used for payment of RTI fee.
The respondents, their PIOs and incharge officers were directed to update their official website immediately and send a compliance reprt to the Commission with a copy to the Complainant within 10 days from the date of receipt of the order. All the PIOs of
Directorate of Education and all other officers concerned were directed to accept the IPO without raising technical objections and follow all the directions issued by the full bench order of CIC.
They were asked to submit separate reports to the Commission explaining how many IPOs they have rejected so far and what are the grounds of rejection, from January 2014 to December 10, 2014, within 15 days from the date of reciept of the order.
A show cause notice was issued to the PIO who refused and returned the IPO of appellant as to why maximum penalty cannot be imposed against him for acting against the spirit of RTI and harassing the applicant and for not updating the official website.