Mockery of RTI Act by CIC
Posted by rtiact2005 on June 29, 2006
Dear Mr Habibullah,
Just a few minutes back, I have received an order passed by Mrs Padma Balasubramaniam. This order makes a complete mockery of the RTI Act and principles of natural justice. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated order but one in a series of similar orders passed by the Commission.
Let me discuss Mrs Padma’s order first:
1. My RTI application relates to inspection of files at AIIMS through which user charges were introduced at AIIMS. Earlier the treatment was free at AIIMS. Lakhs of poor people from across the country used to come to AIIMS daily to get treatment. However, recently, AIIMS decided not to provide any free treatment and charge fee on actual cost basis, which suddenly made the treatment at AIIMS very expensive. One newspaper reported that this decision was taken at AIIMS without going through the prescribed process. I filed an RTI on 5.12.05 to inspect all the files through which this decision was taken. My application contained 18 questions, some of which were innocuous like copy of AIIMS Act, objectives of AIIMS etc.
2. I received no reply in 55 days.
3. I filed first appeal on 1.2.06. I did not receive any reply to my appeal. But I received a letter dated 2.2.06 asking me to come for inspection on 6.2.06. When I went for inspection, I was shown records related to 8 questions out of 18 asked by me. However, none of the files related to user charges were shown to me. They just showed me a copy of AIIMS Act, objectives of AIIMS etc.
4. I filed my objection on the spot. After inspecting whatever records were shown to me, I requested copies of some of them. I received a letter dated 28.2.06 asking me to deposit certain fee. However, according to sec 7(6), no fee can be charged if the public authority fails to provide information within the time limits specified in the Act. So, I demanded that I should be provided information free of charge.
5. I filed second appeal in March 2006. The Commission sought comments from AIIMS, who informed the Commission that they had shown me all the records and had asked me to deposit fee but since I did not deposit fee, they could not provide information.
6. Obviously, AIIMS misled the Commission because they showed me records related to only 8 questions. And that the fee should not have been charged as per sec 7(6). I had already mentioned these details in my appeal.
7. Based on the reply filed by AIIMS, Mrs Padma has disposed off my appeal, without giving any hearing or listening to me. She has asked me to file first appeal again. I had already filed first appeal, for which I did not get any response.
Mr Habibullah, if this had been one order, I would not have bothered you. Please read below, some of the decisions:
1. The process of petrol pump allotments is always mired in corruption. Manish Dnyaneshwar applied for a petrol pump. He did not get it. Under RTI Act, he asked for copies of all applications and marks given by interview board to each applicant. Mr Ansari ruled that such information couldn’t be provided, as it would violate the privacy of the interview Board and the applicants.
2. One often hears that corruption and nepotism guide promotions within the Government. Tapas Dutta wanted copy of minutes of meeting of Departmental Promotion Committee in one of the Government Departments. CIC ruled it could not be made public as it would violate the privacy of candidates.
3. A Government officer faced corruption charges. But no action was taken against him. Ravi Kumar wanted to know whether the Government proposed to take any action against that officer, CIC denied even this information.
4. In a completely bizarre judgement, in the case of AXS Jiwan, Ansari ruled that one cannot ask for any information, which could be replied in “yes” or “no”. In another case, Ansari ruled that you cannot ask any questions which started with “why”, “when”, “whether” etc.
5. In one case, Ansari laid down a new rule, “The expected benefits from disclosure of information should invariably outweigh the costs of providing it.” This is nowhere written in the Act which was passed by the Parliament.
Many applicants have reported that Mr Ansari and Mr Tiwari are extremely rude to the applicants. Yesterday, in the case of one of the applicants called Ajay Goel, the PIO did not turn up for hearing. Rather than passing strictures against the PIO, Mr Tiwari started screaming at Ajay saying, “You RTI activists have nothing to do. You are just wasting the time of the Commission and the Government.” This person had merely sought to know the status of his complaint filed at local police station. I think it is just a matter of time before the applicants will start replying back to the Commissioners in the same tone.
We have really started wondering whether we are wasting our time, money and resources in filing applications, and spreading RTI when they have to meet this fate at the Commission.
All these judgements are clearly in violation of the provisions of RTI Act 2005. Interestingly, all this information were available to the people and they were obtaining it under the State Right to Information Acts so far. These orders of the Central Commission have not just re-written the RTI Act 2005, but have also changed the very concept and definitions of information and right to information in this country, which the Commission is not empowered to do. If the process of petrol pump allotments, process of promotions in Government etc cannot become transparent, one wonders, what is right to information meant for. The catch is that the problem does not lie with the Act. The Indian RTI Act is said to be one of the most progressive Laws in the world. The problem lies with its interpretation. When former bureaucrats were appointed to the posts of Information Commissioners, doubts were raised whether they would really have the will and strength to make governance transparent. The worst fears are now proving true.
I am copying this letter to several yahoogroups to seek comments from other friends as what do they feel about Commission’s functioning.
I would appreciate your comments. Also, do you think there is anything within your powers as CIC to rectify the situation?