Pained by the "callousness" of the Department of Legal Affairs in abiding by the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the Central Information Commission on Wednesday instructed the authority to convene periodic conferences/ seminars to sensitize and educate its officials and ensure that they discharge their duties, effectively.
The order was passed by CIC Bimal Julka in the second appeal preferred against the Department over its failure to disclose the information sought by the Appellant regarding the names of Advocates appointed by the D/o Legal Affairs for M/o Culture w.r.t. matters before the High Court of Delhi.
Noting the issue of "multiple transfers" of the RTI application, the Commission was "pained to observe that the Department of Legal Affairs which was the department concerned with advising the Ministries on legal matters and formulation of Rules and Regulations and its interpretation for various Government bodies, faulted in recognizing the basic issues pertaining to the RTI Act, 2005 which was meant for dissemination of information to a common man."
As reflected from the order, CPIO to the Department of Legal Affiars, Shri Brindavan, without quoting any Section of the RTI Act, 2005, wrongly/ unnecessarily forwarded the RTI application in original to the M/o Culture.
The concerned Culture Ministry's CPIO then transferred the RTI application without quoting any Section of the Act to a number of CPIOs of the same Public Authority
Thereafter, the 3rd CPIO of M/o Culture forwarded the RTI to 23 CPIOs of the same Public Authority who in turn forwarded the application to 12 CPIOs of different Public Authorities. Among those Public Authorities some of them transferred the stated RTI application to each other.
Finally, when a reply was sent to the Appellant, incomplete information was provided. It was intimated that the information sought was not available with the Department and that they would be able to provide the information, provided the list of pending cases was provided by the M/o Culture.
The Appellant had therefore contended that Shri Brindavan had acted like a "post office" and that transfer of RTI application resulted in spending public money on purposeless transfers.
Finding merit in the arguments raised by the Appellant and aggrieved by "complete negligence and laxity" in the public authority, the Commission instructed the Secretary, D/o Legal Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice to "depute an officer of an appropriate seniority to examine the matter and provide point wise information to the Appellant in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this order depending upon the condition for containment of the Corona Virus Pandemic in the Country."
The Commission observed that the CPIO/ First Appellate Authority did not provide correct reply to the Appellant "without any appropriate justification" regarding the reasons why information relating to appointment of Advocates by the D/o Legal Affairs was not available with them.
Rather, it noted, that during the course of hearing, the Authority attempted to "deflect the issues" raised in the RTI application/ Second Appeal by citing irrelevant reasons regarding list of pending cases with the M/o Culture.
"This indicates blatant callousness/ casualness/ disregard to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 by providing an incorrect and misleading response to the Appellant," the Commission said.
It clarified that the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and various judgments on the subject matter clearly establish that it is the duty of the CPIO to provide "clear, cogent and precise response" to the information seekers.
Section 7 (8) (i) of the RTI Act, 2005 also states that where a request for disclosure of information is rejected, the CPIO shall communicate the reasons for such rejection.
"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 remarked.
Case Title: Chandranshu Mehta v. CPIO & ALA Ministry of Law & Justice & Anr.