The “law’s delay” may be an old cliché but O. Shanmuganathan, a senior citizen, found that the Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act to ensure transparency is no exception to it after it took him nearly three years to get his case cleared.

Mr. Shanmuganathan, a retired official of the Chennai Port Trust, filed an RTI petition with the Ministry of Shipping in June 2006 asking for details regarding bunching increments.

When the information was not forthcoming, he appealed to the CIC in November 2006.

After repeated enquiries with the CIC over the next year and a half, he filed an RTI petition in March 2008 with the CIC asking for information on action taken on his appeal, to which the CIC said that his appeal was not traceable.

He was asked to appear in New Delhi before the Commission in May 2008 and the CIC ordered the tracing of his appeal.

The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) in the Ministry of Shipping was asked to supply replies to the queries and the CPIO’s reply that the information had been provided in July 2006 itself was accepted.

Against this, Mr. Shanmuganathan preferred a second appeal to the CIC and an enquiry through video conference was arranged in January 2009. During the enquiry, the CIC agreed that the complainant’s appeal had been misplaced by the CIC and the Information Commissioner directed the CPIO to furnish the information within two weeks along with proof that the information had been sent in July 2007.

Not willing to accept the Commissioner’s statement that the misplaced appeal was due to the fact that the CIC was under-staffed and it was difficult to fix responsibility for the act, Mr. Shanmuganathan submitted a complaint seeking reimbursement of all expenses in February 2009.

To this, a show cause was issued to the Secretary of the CIC in August 2009 as to why a compensation of Rs.10,000 should not be awarded to the complainant. After an enquiry, the Commissioner ordered the CIC to pay Rs.5,000 towards reimbursement of cost of travel, which was paid by Demand Draft to Mr. Shanmuganathan subsequently.

Although he has obtained the compensation, Mr. Shanmuganathan says the statement of the Department of Shipping that it had replied to the complainant using only its own dispatch register as proof was not legally tenable.

“The case has been closed without giving details regarding non-compliance of the provisions of the RTI Act. This should be reconsidered by the Commission,” he says.