Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Right to Information (RTI) law has empowered citizens by giving them the Freedom of Information and the Right to access information which was not possible earlier. There are hundreds of success stories connected with RTI. In some complicated cases when people don’t know what kind of information is to be sought or extracted through RTI, the whole exercise right from filing of application to 2nd appeal becomes useless. This is because people don’t know how to draft an RTI application. In this process people waist more than 3 to 4 months and finally when the case lands in State Information Commission (SIC) by way of second appeal , the same is dismissed and order of First Appellate Authority (FAA) and Public Information Officer (PIO) is upheld. Recently I came to know about a similar case wherein an applicant has asked all the vague information through his RTI application. I am not able to make a judgment what kind of person this man actually is ? Does he really need some valuable information or he is just trying to put a pressure on the Government officials so that he gets his work done. When this case was listed before State Information Commission (SIC), commission out-rightly rejected it.
About the case
A citizen (name withheld) hailing from Puchal village of District Pulwama last year in September filed an application under J&K Right to Information Act (JK RTI Act 2009) before the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) in the office of Deputy Commissioner seeking some information. The RTI application was drafted in such a manner that Information seeker had sought all the absurd information from PIO. This included names of all the family heads in village Qasim Abad, Halqa Lajura , number of family members in each household, number of employees in each household. In addition to this information seeker sought list of businessmen , apple orchardists, Government teachers, Lecturers , transporters , contractors in each household plus land holding, location of land in respect of each family , source of income of each family, life style of members of each family, residential houses of inhabitants of the village outside the village etc.
The PIO in the office of Deputy Commissioner Pulwama transferred the RTI application to Tehsildar Pulwama on September 20th 2018 as the matter pertained to his office. After getting no response from the Tehsildar RTI applicant on Oct 26th 2018 filed first appeal before the Deputy Commissioner, Pulwama who is also the designated First Appellate Authority (FAA) under J&K RTI Act 2009. Information seeker (now appellant) argued that no information has been provided to him by the PIO (Tehsildar).
On November 11th 2018 Deputy Commissioner Pulwama disposed of the RTI appeal by dismissing the same on the grounds that the information sought under RTI Act was not available and hence could not be provided.
Feeling agitated by the order of 1st appellate authority (DC Pulwama) appellant on November 29th 2018 filed 2nd appeal before the State Information Commission (SIC). Appellant prayed for issuance of a direction to the respondents (DC and Tehsildar Pulwama) to furnish information. The appeal came up for hearing before the SIC on February 14th 2019 . Appellant was present in person along with an officer of Tehsil office Pulwama. PIO (Tehsildar Pulwama) was absent due to some official work.
Deputy Commissioner, Pulwama and Tehsildar filed their counter statements dated 27.12.2018& 11.12.2018 respectively. Tehsildar Pulwama submitted that the applicant has sought information which is not readily available in his office. He said that such information can only be collected if a door to door survey is conducted in order to find out the total number of family members of each house hold in Village Qasim Abad Lajoora. The PIO pleaded that RTI Act does not cast any obligation on the PIO to create, collect or collate information and then provide the same to the information seeker. Tehsildar further submitted that the kind of information sought by the appellant does not come within the ambit of definition of “information” under Section-2(d) of the J&K RTI Act and hence the said information could not be provided to him. To a large extent I do agree with the PIOs statement.
Deputy Commissioner Pulwama (First Appellate Authority) in his counter statement submitted that since the information was not available he upheld the order of Tehsildar (PIO). Accordingly, the First Appeal was disposed of without any direction to the PIO. Appellant / aggrieved in his rejoinder dated Feb 14th 2019 submitted that he was neither informed through prescribed mode of service nor telephonically for attending the hearing in the First Appeal. He further alleged that though much of the information sought was available within the District Statistical and Evaluation Office in the form of Census-2011, office of which is situated in the same building housing the DC’s Office. The appellant further alleged that the Deputy Commissioner’s office was deliberately denying the information sought by him and thereby declaring it vague and wild in nature, which is against the spirit of a democratic, responsible and accountable administration as guaranteed under the J&K RTI Act, 2009. To some extent appellant is correct as he was not intimated about 1st appeal hearing and his application was not transferred to District Statistical office as mandated under section 6 (3) of J&K RTI Act 2009.
State Information Commission (SIC) after going through the contents of the RTI application filed by the appellant agreed with the stand taken by the Tehsildar / PIO that the kind of information sought does not come within the ambit of “information”. While passing the order Information Commissioner Mohammad Ashraf Mir said
“At this juncture, it is necessary to clear some misconceptions about the RTI Act. The RTI Act provides access to all information that is available and existing. This is clear from a combined reading of Section-3 and the definitions of “information” and “right to information” under clauses (f) and (j) of Section-2 of the Act. If a Public Authority has any information in the form of data or analysed data or abstracts, or statistics, an applicant may access such information subject to exemptions in Section-8 of the Act. But where the information sought is not a part of a record of a Public Authority, and where such information is not required to be maintained under any law or the rules or regulations of the Public Authority, the Act does not cast an obligation upon the Public Authority to collect or collate such non-available information and then furnish it to an applicant. A Public Authority is also not required to furnish information which requires drawing of inferences and for making of assumptions ”
If the information seeker claims that information he sought is available with District Statistical & Evaluation Office Pulwama , then why didn’t he file RTI application in the said office ? I don’t believe all the information sought by information seeker would be available in that office. There is lot of absurd information sought by him like knowing lifestyle of people in the village ?
I believe he wants to get hold of some information that is related to issuance of Backward Area (RBA) certificate or something connected to reservation or issuance of cast certificate etc but as I can infer , he has not been able to draft the RTI application perfectly. The PIO in DC office Pulwama was also under legal obligation to forward the part of RTI application to District Statistical & Evaluation Office Pulwama under section 6 (3) in addition of seeking assistance from Tehsildar Pulwama. If the information seeker really wants to extract some vital information that would expose some wrong doings in Lajoora village, he must redraft the RTI application. RTI Movement is ready to assist such people provided they are humble , honest and upright.
(The author is Founder & Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement )
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat