The Central Information Commission, in the case of Balendra Kumar vs Ministry of Labour and Employment, held that when information is being sought by the applicant, non-traceability of the file cannot be used as an excuse to deny the information sought.
The complainant had sought details regarding certain specified files; however, the same was denied to him by the CIPO, on account of the file being missing. It was the claim of the respondent authorities that the file could not be traced despite their best efforts.
The Commission, relying on the case of Omprakash v GNCTD, noted that no public authority can deny the right of the applicant to the information sought. A file being non-traceable is a reflection of the inefficient and pathetic management of files by the public authority. If despite best efforts the file cannot be traced, then efforts should be made to reconstruct the file and provide information.
Further, the Commission also noted that filing of an FIR doesn’t relieve the public authority of its duty to provide information. The Police do not have the duty to trace missing files and will come into the picture only when there has been a theft of the file(s) in question.
The Commission also noted that those documents which are no longer to be used by the public authority, but are of a permanent nature, are to be shifted to the national or state archives for safekeeping. Loss of records of a permanent nature would invite penal sanctions under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code. Further, if these files are a part of the public record and form evidence in any case, their destruction would be seen as a destruction of evidence and will invite sanctions under the Public Records Act and the Right to Information Act.
Appropriate action in case of a missing file would be recovering the file, finding out which employee was responsible for the file being missing, taking suitable disciplinary actions against that employee and addressing the problems which arose due to the file being missing. If despite these efforts the file could not be traced, then the public authority has a moral and legal duty to sincerely address the grievance of the applicant. No such actions were undertaken by the public authority.
The Commission, having the power to direct disclosure of information provided, has the jurisdiction to direct enquiry against the PIO/CPIO claiming that the information sought by the applicant is not traceable.
Read the Order here.