‘Applicants will be entitled to compensation if information is denied’
In a landmark order, the Ernakulam Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum has said when information is denied to an RTI applicant, it will be considered as deficiency in service and the applicant will be entitled to compensation under the Consumer Protection Act.
The directive came on a petition filed by D.B. Binu, general secretary, Human Rights Defence Forum. He had filed an RTI application at the Kochi Corporation seeking to know the names of the councillors who failed to convene ward sabhas once in three months.
But the Public Information Officer of the Corporation failed to give him the information. Mr. Binu then approached the forum seeking a directive on the issue and compensation. The complainant said the rejection of his application without any plausible reason amounted to deficiency in service on the part of the corporation.
The forum, while quoting a verdict of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, observed: “The remedy under the RTI Act would take care of disciplinary action and penalty against the competent authority in not furnishing the information, but no remedy is provided under the Act to an applicant seeking information if information sought is not provided resulting in deficiency in service on that count.”
It also pointed out that there was no provision in the Act to claim compensation for deficiency in service.
The corporation said that if the complainant was not satisfied with its reply, he should have approached the appellate authority under the RTI Act. It added that the information sought was with the coordinators of the sabhas in 74 wards in the Kochi Corporation.
However, the forum said this contention was not sustainable as the coordinators were supposed to send a copy of the proceedings of the sabhas to councillors within five days.
The case of the complainant would fall within the scope and ambit of Section 2(i) (o) of the Consumer Protection Act, which states that service means service of any description which is made available to potential users that include purveying of news or supplying of other information.
The forum said the Information Officer failed in his duties, which amounted to deficiency in service.
It directed the officer to pay the complainant Rs.5000 as compensation and Rs.1000 towards the cost in 30 days. The landmark order was passed by the forum comprising its president A. Rajesh, members Sheen Jose and V.K. Beena Kumari.