CIC reprimands Tehsildar, BDO, Assistant Director for delay in furnishing information

‘Application can’t be rejected even on non-payment of fee’

Says info can’t be denied merely on technical grounds

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Jan 12: Central Information Commission (CIC) has reprimanded Tehsildar, Block Development Officer (BDO) and Assistant Director for inordinate delay in furnishing information under the Right to Information Act. It has also made it clear that information cannot be denied merely on the technical grounds and even non-payment of fee is not a reason for rejection of application.
As per the case before the Central Information Commission, an application under RTI Act was filed on January 17, 2021 before the Tehsildar Bhalwal seeking information about the action taken by the concerned officials as ordered by Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) North and details of the officials who have not done their job in time.
Having not received response from the CPIO, the applicant filed First Appeal dated 26.03.2021 which was not adjudicated by the First Appellate Authority. Aggrieved and dissatisfied, the appellant approached the Central Information Commission with the Second Appeal.
In the light of the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties, Chief Information Commissioner Y K Sinha directed Ashok Chakravarti, Tehsildar Bhalwal to provide a point wise reply in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act 2005 to the appellant. Moreover, he has been directed to submit an explanation to the Commission stating the reasons why penal action should not be initiated against him for the delay in providing the information to the appellant.
The directions should be complied with by 31.01.2023 under intimation to the Commission, read the order of the CIC, the copy of which is available with EXCELSIOR.
Similarly, an applicant approached Tehsildar Haveli in Poonch district on October 31, 2018 seeking copy of Khasra Girdawari of a particular chunk of land. Neither the PIO provided information nor the First Appellate Authority adjudicated the First Appeal and finally the applicant approached the Central Information Commission.
During the course of hearing in the Second Appeal, Anjum Bashir Khan Khatak, Tehsildar Haveli reiterated his written submission dated 21.12.2022 wherein the copies of the Khasra Girdawari of Khasra No 591 Min situated in Village Banwat were enclosed. On being queried by the Commission regarding the reasons for not providing the information earlier, Khatak feigned ignorance.
Reprimanding the Tehsildar, the Commission has cautioned him to ensure that the timelines stipulated under the provisions of the RTI Act are strictly followed in future failing which penal action under Section 20 (1) may be initiated.
As per another case before the CIC, the applicant filed RTI application before the PIO in the Directorate of School Education Jammu dated 05.04.2021 seeking information relating to the service record, salary emoluments etc. In this case too, both the PIO and the First Appellate Authority violated the provisions of the transparency law.
During the course of hearing, it transpired that the PIO had sent a reply informing the appellant of rejection of his RTI application on account of being annexed with the IPO which was more than five months old. However, the reply could not be served on the appellant. The respondent was directed by the Commission to produce copy of the IPO and the reply claimed to have been sent to the appellant but nothing was submitted before the Commission.
After hearing contentions of both parties and upon perusal of the available records, the Commission observed, “the information sought by the appellant was denied on a technical ground”. Placing reliance on a decision of the Commission in the case of R K Jain Vs CPIO, Delhi University, the Chief Information Commissioner said, “denial of access to information merely on a technical ground that the IPO was outdated and hence invalid is not tenable”, adding “even non-payment of fee cannot be a ground for rejection of application”.
“The RTI Act as a welfare legislation aims at dissemination of information unless such disclosure is barred under the specific provisions of the RTI Act. Thus, the respondent-PIO, Directorate of School Education Harish Chander (Assistant Director) is directed to provide complete information as sought by the appellant within four weeks of receipt of this order”, the Commission directed.
The Assistant Director has further been directed to submit a compliance report before the Commission in this regard with necessary proof of service by 15.02.2023, failing which appropriate action for non compliance shall be initiated as per law.