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Dodging Duty to Disclose

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The Fifth NCSC’s Monitoring Meeting.

The Fifth NCSC’s Monitoring Meeting.

In His Own Right

Do you as a Public Information Officer (PIO) go unprepared in the quasi-judicial hearings? The habit could land you in trouble with the Central Information Commission (CIC). This is what the latest order passed by the top adjudicatory body under the Right to Information Act (RTI) Act, 2005 in the Mehta’s second appeal episode signify.

This is the story of the Rated-R RTI Activist, the latest in it being the directive of the India’s Transparency Watchdog of 09 June, 2020, directed the Schedule Castes Commission to provide copy of order(s) passed by them in the file (as mentioned in the RTI application), within a period of 15 working days.

In a stringently worded order passed last Tuesday, the Information Commissioner (IC) Neeraj Kumar Gupta cautioned the CPIO, Pradeep Rai - Assistant Director (Official Language) in National Commission for Schedule Castes (NCSC) to “be cautious in future and ensure that he should be fully acquainted with the facts of the case”. Since, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) has not disposed of the First Appeal (FA), the IC takes a serious note of this lacuna and also counsel FAA to “be more careful in future and dispose the first appeals of the applicants within stipulated period of time as per the RTI Act”.

In his RTI application filed on November 01, 2018, Chandranshu Mehta had sought inspection of File No. V-25/Culture-4/2016/SSW- I with all related records attached to it u/s 2 (j) (i) of the Act. Also, sought authenticated copies of the documents u/s 2 (j) (ii) of the Act. After detailed discussion in the matter, Mehta, during the hearing, has limited his point only to providing copy of order(s) passed by NCSC in the said case file.

Mehta in support of his contentions has placed reliance on Section 2 (j) of the Act along with the Government of India's Office Memorandum (O.M.) No. 1/32/2013-IR dated 28.11.2013. Further, to buttress his submissions has referred to 2 (two) decrees of the Commission in Khemchand vs. National Commission for Scheduled Castes, CIC/NCFSC/A/2016/306702 and in Satish Ashok Sherkhane vs. National Commission for Schedule Castes, CIC/NCFSC/A/2018/625619.

“On query from the Commission, the appellant stated that the file is related to some lady (third party) related to her wrongful promotion and the appellant as a whistleblower has also made a representation before the respondent public authority. The appellant further stated that 3 FIRs has also been registered against the said lady. Therefore, the information sought is in larger public interest,” Gupta recorded in his verdict.

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Earlier records of the CIC show that the said lady has already been penalised u/s 20 (1) of the Act for not providing any reply relating to the RTI application filed by the same appellant in 2019. (Weblink: Rated-R RTI Activist’s Return)

Assistant Director (Official Language) & CPIO Pradeep Rai submitted that, “…he was not prepared to represent the case, as he could not able to trace the relevant file and order by the National Commission for Schedule Castes in any case can be made disclosable to the public”.

The Watchdog, in its binding pronouncement u/s 19 (7) of the Act, has rightly observed, “The Commission further observed that National Commission for Schedule Castes is a quasi-judicial forum and the orders passed by them should be made available in the public domain”.

Link to the Decision: CIC/NCFSC/A/2019/102383

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© 2020 Mompy Sharma

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