CIC cautioned the CGHS to timely respond / transfer the applications to the concerned Department failing which penal action u/S 20 (1) may be initiated - CIC also instructed the CGHS to convene periodic conferences about the relevant RTI Act provisions
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 04 points with reference to the order of CHGS dated 6.10.2017 issued by Dr. D.C Joshi (Director, CGHS, M/o H&FW), details of the action taken by Addl. DDG (HQ), Additional Director (HQ) and all the Directors of all CGHS cities and Zones on the said order; the necessity/logic behind taking medicines back by beneficiaries; details of Rule and Section of law under which a Director or CMO I/c of Wellness Centre/ Any Medical Officer can seek the Medicine back from beneficiaries/patient through offline mode, etc.
Dissatisfied due to non receipt of any response from the CPIO, the Appellant approached the FAA. The FAA, vide its order dated 22.03.2018 provided a response with reference to point no. 03 of the RTI application.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Respondent: Dr. Mohan Lal, Nodal Officer, RTI, CGHS Delhi and Dr. Dinesh C. Shandilya, CPIO;
The Appellant remained absent during the hearing. The Respondent while admitting the delay caused in transferring the RTI application by the concerned official submitted that a point-wise response was provided to the Appellant on 04.04.2018. Furthermore, the FAA vide reply dated 22.03.2018 gave the details regarding point No. 03 of the RTI application. On being queried regarding the reason for not responding to the RTI application within the stipulated time, no satisfactory response was offered by the Respondent who submitted that recently they had initiated several steps to sensitize / train officials to reply to the RTI applications strictly within the stipulated time. He further tendered his unconditional apology for the delay in response / transfer of application and assured that no such discrepancies would recur in future.
The Commission observed that the RTI Act, 2005 stipulates time limits in its various provisions relating to responding to RTI Applications, transfer of applications, filing and disposing of first appeal to ensure that a culture of information dissemination is strengthened so that a robust functioning of the democracy gets established. This was recognised by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Mujibur Rehman vs Central Information Commission (W.P. (C) 3845/2007)(Dated 28 April, 2009) wherein it was held as under:
“14.......The court cannot be unmindful of the circumstances under which the Act was framed, and brought into force. It seeks to foster an “openness culture” among state agencies, and a wider section of “public authorities” whose actions have a significant or lasting impact on the people and their lives. Information seekers are to be furnished what they ask for, unless the Act prohibits disclosure; they are not to be driven away through sheer inaction or filibustering tactics of the public authorities or their officers. It is to ensure these ends that time limits have been prescribed, in absolute terms, as well as penalty provisions. These are meant to ensure a culture of information disclosure so necessary for a robust and functioning democracy.”
With regard to providing a clear and cogent response to the Appellant, the Commission referred to the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in J P Aggarwal v. Union of India (WP (C) no. 7232/2009 wherein it was held that:
“ 7“it is the PIO to whom the application is submitted and it is who is responsible for ensuring that the information as sought is provided to the applicant within the statutory requirements of the Act. Section 5(4) is simply to strengthen the authority of the PIO within the department; if the PIO finds a default by those from whom he has sought information. The PIO is expected to recommend a remedial action to be taken”. The RTI Act makes the PIO the pivot for enforcing the implementation of the Act.”
8………….The PIO is expected to apply his / her mind, duly analyse the material before him / her and then either disclose the information sought or give grounds for nondisclosure.”
Furthermore, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of R.K. Jain vs Union of India, LPA No. 369/2018, dated 29.08.2018, held as under:
“9………………………….. That apart, the CPIO being custodian of the information or the documents sought for, is primarily responsible under the scheme of the RTI Act to supply the information and in case of default or dereliction on his part, the penal action is to be invoked against him only.”
Furthermore, in OM No. 20/10/23/2007-IR dated 09.07.2009, while elaborating on the duties and responsibilities of the FAA, it was stated that:
“3. Deciding appeals under the RTI Act is a quasi judicial function. It is, therefore, necessary that the appellate authority should see that the justice is not only done but it should also appear to have been done. In order to do so, the order passed by the appellate authority should be a speaking order giving justification for the decision arrived at.
5..............................The Act provides that the first appellate authority would be an officer senior in rank to the CPIO. Thus, the appellate authority, as per provisions of the Act, would be an officer in a commanding position vis a vis’ the CPIO. Nevertheless, if, in any case, the CPIO does not implement the order passed by the appellate authority and the appellate authority feels that intervention of higher authority is required to get his order implemented, he should bring the matter to the notice of the officer in the public authority competent to take against the CPIO. Such competent officer shall take necessary action so as to ensure implementation of the RTI Act. ”
During the hearing the Respondent cited various administrative lacunae and constraints for implementation of the RTI Act, 2005 which require urgent deliberation and rectification. The Commission was appalled to learn about the manner in which the hearings before it were handled by the Respondent Public Authority which indicated that there was complete negligence and laxity in the Public Authority in dealing with the RTI matters. It was abundantly clear that such matters were being ignored and set aside without application of mind which reflected disrespect towards the RTI Act, 2005 itself. It was felt that the conduct of Respondent was against the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 which was enacted to ensure greater transparency and effective access to the information.
The Appellant was not present to contest the submissions of the Respondent or to substantiate his claims further.
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by the Respondent and in the light of the reply dated 04.04.2018 mentioned above; no further intervention of the Commission is required in the matter. The Commission, however, cautions the Respondent to timely respond / transfer the applications to the concerned Department failing which penal action under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005 may be initiated. The Commission also instructs the Respondent Public Authority to convene periodic conferences/seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of its duties and responsibilities.
The Appeal stands disposed accordingly.
Citation: Mr. Pankaj Mehta v. CPIO Office of Addl. Director (NZ) Central Govt. Health Scheme in Second Appeal No.:- CIC/CGHSD/A/2018/121430-BJ, Date of Decision : 14.03.2019