As per rules, it should have been provided within 30 days

In a decision that is perceived to be one of the finest since the enactment of Right to Information Act 2005, the Central Information Commission has imposed a penalty of Rs.25,000 on its Public Information Officer-cum-Deputy Secretary, for not providing certain information to an RTI applicant within the stipulated 30-day period.

S. Sampath, an RTI activist here, said the decision rendered by Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi on Monday would serve as a stern warning to PIOs in government establishments across the country.

The issue relates to an RTI application made by Rajeev Sharma of Delhi to the PIO of CIC on April 20 last year seeking details of the number of complaints and second appeals pending with respect to Bharat Scouts and Guides along with the names of the Information Commissioners who heard those complaints as well as second appeals.

As per rules, the information should have been provided within a month. This was not done.

The applicant preferred an appeal on May 31, 2011. Disposing of the appeal on June 8, the First Appellate Authority directed the PIO, K.L. Das, to furnish the information within 10 working days.

It was not provided, forcing the applicant to file the present second appeal on August 5.

Thereafter, when the matter was taken up for hearing by Mr. Gandhi on April 24 this year, he was informed that the information was provided to the applicant on April 13.

Not satisfied, the Information Commissioner issued a show-cause notice to the PIO to explain the reasons for not providing the information within 30 days.

In his reply, the PIO contended that the relevant file was not readily available or traceable. Admitting that an error had occurred, he said that a similar situation existed in some other cases too.

File available, but not traced for months

Recording the submission, the Information Commissioner said: “At the very least the PIO should have informed the appellant that the relevant file was misplaced or untraceable. After that, either the file should have been located within a reasonable time and the information provided or a police complaint made for the loss of the file. The information has been provided to the appellant only on April 13, 2012. Thus, it appears that the file was available but was not traced for many months. No reasonable cause has been offered for the delay in providing the information. Since, the delay in providing the information is over 100 days… the Commission, under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act, imposes the maximum penalty of Rs.25,000.”

The Secretary, CIC, was ordered to recover the amount from the salary of the PIO at the rate of Rs.5,000 per month and remit it in the name of Pay and Accounts Officer, Central Administrative Tribunal, starting from June 2012.