CIC: The bank does not have a proper system of accounting for the RTI applications received & for their movement - CIC: Organise a familiarization cum training programme; Appoint a larger number of PIOs and put in place an effective monitoring system
CIC: The bank does not have a proper system of accounting for the RTI applications received and for their movement from one office to the other - CIC: Organise a familiarization cum training programme; appoint a larger number of PIOs; Put in place an effective monitoring system to account for the RTI applications received by various offices of the public authority and ensure timely action on the same; Introduce a system to maintain complete record in respect of the RTI applications that have to be moved from one office to another, so that in the event an application is lost, responsibility can be fixed for the same
Though registered as a complaint, we are treating this matter as an appeal because in his communication dated 5.6.2013 to the CIC, the Appellant had described it as second appeal under Section 19 of the RTI Act.
Hearing on 8.12.2014
2. This matter pertains to an RTI application dated 29.2.2013 filed by the Appellant, seeking information on seven points. Not having received any reply from the Respondents, he filed second appeal dated 5.6.2013 to the CIC, which was received by the Commission on 13.6.2013.
3. The Appellant submitted that the services of Shri Rajesh Kumar (points 6 and 7 of the RTI application) were dispensed with in an irregular manner by the bank and that he had sought the information, as per his RTI application, in the above context. He further submitted that Shri Rajesh Kumar lost his labour dispute case with the bank because the information sought by him (the Appellant) in his RTI application was not provided within the stipulated timeframe. He prayed for provision of the information sought by him, imposition of penalty on the CPIO and award of compensation to him.
4. The Respondents submitted that the RTI application was submitted to their Sotiganj, Meerut Branch and was not forwarded by that branch to the CPIO, who was located in Lucknow. Therefore, it could not be responded to. They further submitted that some of the information sought by the Appellant was provided in the course of the labour dispute case, which was lost by Shri Rajesh Kumar. However, now the entire information sought by the Appellant will be provided to him.
5. We have considered the records and the submissions made by the Respondents before us. We direct the CPIO to provide to the Appellant the information sought by him in his RTI application dated 29.2.2013, within twenty days of the receipt of this order, under intimation to the Commission. The information should be given free of cost.
6. We do not see any ground for award of compensation to the Appellant. The mere allegation of the Appellant, that Shri Rajesh Kumar lost the labour dispute case because of nonprovision of information by the Respondents in response to the RTI application, cannot become the ground for compensation. Shri Rajesh Kumar was at liberty to seek such information, as he needed to support his case, through the concerned court which considered the labour dispute. In any case, we do not see how the Appellant has suffered any loss to deserve compensation.
7. However, we note that no information has been provided so far to the RTI application dated 29.2.2013. We are not satisfied with the explanation given by Shri Tej Pal Singh, CPIO that a response could not be sent because the RTI application was not forwarded by the concerned branch to the CPIO. Therefore, we direct Shri Tej Pal Singh, CPIO to appear before us again on 2nd February 2015 at 10.00 a.m. at Room No. 305, BWing, Second Floor, August Kranti Bhawan, Bhikaji Cama Place, New Delhi 110066 to explain the reasons for the branch not forwarding the application to the designated CPIO. During the hearing on 2.2.2015, Shri Tej Pal Singh should be accompanied by the concerned officer(s), who dealt with this application at the branch level.
Hearing on 2.2.2015
8. The matter came up before us again today. Shri Praveen Chandra, Chief Manager submitted that in compliance of the Commission’s directive contained in paragraph 5 above, the information has been forwarded to the Appellant. He also submitted that he was the Branch Manager at the time when the RTI application of the Appellant was received and that it was inadvertently filed by “some employee” of the branch and did not come to his notice. However, neither Shri Tejpal Singh, CPIO nor Shri Praveen Chandra, Chief Manager gave us any information regarding who received the RTI application and filed it without taking any action on it. The matter is adjourned to be heard again on 19 rd March 2015 at 10.00 a.m. at Room No. 305, 2nd Floor, B Wing, August Kranti Bhawan, Bhikaji Cama Place, New Delhi110066. Shri Tejpal Singh, CPIO and Shri Praveen Chandra, Chief Manager are directed to appear before us again on 19.3.2015 to show cause why they should not be penalised in terms of the provisions of sub Section 1 of Section 20 of the RTI Act for their failure to provide information in response to the RTI application within the timeframe stipulated in the said Act. They should bring along with them any other official(s), who was / were also responsible for taking action on the above application. Their written submissions, if any, should reach the Commission’s office latest by 12.3.2015.
Hearing on 19.3.2015
9. Shri Tejpal Singh, Chief Manager and CPIO, Meerut Regional Office and Shri Praveen Chandra, Chief Manager appeared before us again today. Shri Tejpal Singh, Chief Manager stated that at the time, when the RTI application dated 29.2.2013 was filed, he was posted at Aizwal, Mizoram and was not connected in any way either with the Meerut office or with the Lucknow Regional Office, under which the branch concerned was working at that time. He further submitted that the RTI application was required to be sent by the branch to the CPIO at the Regional Office in Lucknow. Shri Praveen Chandra submitted that the RTI application was not put up to him by Shri Dilip Sootrakar, who was the Senior Manager and his number two officer, when the application was received. He also claimed that Shri Sootrakar simply filed the RTI application and did not initiate any action on it. He further submitted that many charges have been framed by the bank against Shri Sootrakar for his acts causing harm to the interests of the bank. In response to our query, Shri Tejpal Singh informed us that Shri Narendra Singh is the Regional Manager, Meerut. Having taken note of the above submissions made by the two officers, we direct Shri Narendra Singh, Regional Manager, Meerut to conduct an enquiry regarding the action taken on the above RTI application and submit a report to the Commission within fifteen days of the receipt of this order by him. The enquiry should cover, inter alia, the aspects of who received the RTI application in the branch and what action was taken on it, together with the name(s) of the officer(s), who dealt with it. Shri Narendra Singh, Regional Manager, should also give his comments on the claim of Shri Praveen Chandra that the RTI application was not put up to him and that the bank has framed charges against Shri Sootrakar, along with information regarding the nature of action being taken against him (Shri Sootrakar). The report of the Regional Manager should be accompanied by such documentary evidence as is available on the records of the branch. We will take a decision on the penalty issue upon receipt of the above report of the Regional Manager.
Interim Order 1.5.2015
10. As directed in our interim order dated 19.3.2015, Shri Narendra Singh, Regional Manager, Meerut has sent his enquiry report vide his letter dated 9.4.2015 with the following findings:
a) The branch was unable to produce the Inward Register for the relevant period, so it could not be made out as to, (i) When the application was received at the Meerut branch? (ii) Who received it? (iii) To whom the application was marked?
b) Mention of words sent R.O. on 25/2/2013 is there on the back of the envelope, however the present branch head, Shri L. D. Kochar, C.M, Meerut branch, was unable to identify whose writing it was.
c) The envelope or the RTI application in its original (wrongly retained at the branch, because as per our instructions the original application along with responses to the questions are to be forwarded to Regional Office by the branch) does not bear any marking to any officer. It does not also bear initials of receipt by any officer.
d) The above fact of application under RTI Act 2005, Rajesh Kumar, being sent to Regional Office, Lucknow, is corroborated at serial No. 86 in the Outward Register of Courier on 25/02/2015. However when we took up the matter with Regional Office, Lucknow, the Senior ManagerLaw, Mrs. Veena Iyer, responded that on perusal of the Inward Register, No entry pertaining to the above RTI application is reflected. It appears that the RTI application which was sent to Regional Office, Lucknow, was misplaced / lost in transit.
e) In view of a) as above, we cannot clearly comment on the claim of Mr. Praveen Chandra, that the RTI application was not put up to him.
f) The personal file of Mr. Dileep Sootrakar was also perused, he has been charged of Unauthorised absence and has been on loss of pay from 14/01/2013 to 19/01/2013 (6 days), 30/01/2013 to 06/02/2013 (8 days), 27/5/2013 to 28/05/2013 (2 days), 03/06/2013 to 08/06/2013(6 days). There is no mention of any specific remark or charge against Mr. Sootrakar for not responding to the above RTI application.
Based on the above findings, Shri Narendra Singh has stated, “Taking into consideration the above facts, I am of the opinion that RTI application dated 19/02/2013 received by our Meerut branch, same was sent to Regional Office, Lucknow, without any covering letter which perhaps was lost in transit.”
11. We are not satisfied with the above enquiry report on account of the following reasons:
There is a contradiction between the contents of the enquiry report at (c) and (d). At (c), it is stated that the RTI application in original was wrongly retained at the branch in Meerut. However, at (d) it is stated that the application was forwarded to the Regional Office in Lucknow. Further, with reference to the findings of the enquiry report at (b) and (d), even if the current Branch Manager is unable to identify the employee(s) who mentioned the words ‘sent RO on 25.2.2013’ on the envelope and made the entry in the outward register at Sl. No. 86, they should be identified with the help of Shri Praveen Chandra, the then Branch Manager and their statements obtained, including regarding the mode of despatch of the RTI application to R.O. Lucknow. We, therefore, direct Shri Narendra Singh, Regional Manager, Meerut to enquire into the matter further to explain the contradiction between the findings of the enquiry report at (c) and (d) and to obtain the statements of the employees, who made the entries as per the findings of the enquiry report at (b) and (d). Moreover, another attempt should be made to locate the inward register for the relevant period to establish the facts. The report of Shri Narendra Singh on the above issues, together with his comments, should be submitted to the Commission within fifteen days of the receipt of this order by him. Further, in view of the finding of the enquiry report at (d), we direct the Regional Manager, Lucknow to conduct an enquiry regarding the receipt of the RTI application at the Lucknow office and the action taken on the same and forward his enquiry report to the Commission within fifteen days of the receipt of this order by him. Shri Narendra Singh, Regional Manager is directed to serve a copy of this
order, immediately on its receipt, on the Regional Manager, Lucknow.
12. We note from the enclosures to the enquiry report of Shri Narendra Singh that the Lucknow office of the Respondents has raised the issue as to how the RTI application, dated 29.2.2013 as per previous paragraphs of this order, could have been sent by the Branch in Meerut to the Regional Office in Lucknow on 25.2.2013. In this context, it is noted that the date of the RTI application (a copy of which has been submitted by the Appellant to the Commission), originally typewritten, was changed in hand. This resulted in the Commission noting the date of the RTI application erroneously as 29.2.2013 rather than 19.2.2013. It is clarified that the latter is the correct date of the application.
Date of decision 24.7.2015
13. As directed in our interim order dated 1.5.2015, Shri Narendra Singh, Regional Manager has submitted his report dated 18.6.2015. Regarding the contradiction between the contents of the enquiry report at (c) and (d), he has stated that it is surmised (though not sure) that contrary to their instructions to send the original RTI application along with answers to the queries, the branch retained the original application and forwarded a photocopy of the same to the Regional office, Lucknow. Further, in regard to the findings of the enquiry report at (b) and (d) concerning identification of the employee, who mentioned the words, ‘sent RO on 25.2.2013’ on the envelope, it is mentioned that scanned copy of the envelope was sent to Shri Praveen Chandra, the then Branch Manager, who has stated that the above words were written by Shri Dileep Sutrakar. The entry in the outward register at Sl. No. 86 was identified by Shri Praveen Chandra to have been made by Shri Khushi Ram, Clerk. The above statements of Shri Praveen Chandra are corroborated by the letter dated 17.6.2015 signed by four staff members of the Meerut branch. It is also averred that inward register could not be located at the branch and it was not being maintained at that time. We are also in receipt of enquiry report dated 9.6.2015 from Regional Head, Lucknow. They formed a committee of four officers, who conducted an enquiry in the matter. They perused the inward register maintained at the office and noted that RTI application was not received by them.
14. On the basis of the above, the bank authorities have concluded that the RTI application dated 19.2.2013, received by their Meerut Branch, was sent to the Regional Office, Lucknow and was perhaps lost in transit.
15. From the above, it is clear that the bank does not have a proper system of accounting for the RTI applications received and for their movement from one office to the other. It is noted that while the dispatch register of the branch concerned in the instant case has a mention of the RTI application having been sent to the Lucknow office, there is no indication whatsoever of the manner in which it was sent. Since the CPIOs appear to be located only at the Regional offices and RTI applications can be submitted at the branch level, it is even more important that a proper system is put in place to account for the RTI applications made to the bank and to move them from one office to another in a secure manner. With regard to the issue of imposition of penalty under Section 20 of the RTI Act, we note the following observations of courts in this regard:
(i) The Supreme court in the case of Chief Information Commissioner & Anr. Vs. State of Manipur & Anr has held: “30... the only order which can be passed by the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be, under Section 18 is an order of penalty provided under Section 20.
However, before such order is passed the Commission must be satisfied that the conduct of the Information Officer was not bonafide”.
(ii) The Delhi High Court in WP(C) 3114/2007 decided on 3.12.2007 (Bhagat Singh vs. CIC & Ors.) held:
“17. This court takes a serious note of the two year delay in releasing information, the lack of adequate reasoning in the orders of the public information officer and the Appellate Authority and the lack of application of mind in relation to the nature of the information sought. The materials on record clearly show the lackadaisical approach of the second and third respondent in releasing the information sought. However, the petitioner has not been able to demonstrate that they malafidely denied the information sought. Therefore, a direction to the Central Information Commission to initiate action under Section 20 of the Act, cannot be issued”.
(iii) In its judgment dated 2.2.2012 in Municipal Corporation of Delhi vs. Sunil Kumar [W.P. (C) 766/2010], the High Court of Delhi made the following observation:
“ The aspect of levy of penalty on the PIO is governed by Section 20 of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act). It states that the CIC may at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal impose penalty on the CPIO, where he is of the opinion that the CPIO has, without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified under subsection (1) of Section 7 or malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect incomplete or misleading information or destroyed information which was the subject of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information. The crux of the said provision is that the PIO should have obstructed the supply of the information with intent or should have acted consciously and deliberately in a manner so as to block the provision of the information.”
16. While the handling of the RTI application in this case clearly left much to be desired, there is no ground to establish that lack of response to this application was the result of malafide intent on the part of any officer of the bank. Therefore, we would refrain from imposing any penalty in this case. At the same time, as stated above, there is need for the bank to make improvements in its system of accounting for and handling RTI applications. By virtue of the power vested in us under Section 19 (8) (a) of the RTI Act, we direct the public authority to take the following steps at the earliest:
(a) Organise a familiarization cum training programme in RTI matters for its concerned officer.
(b) Consider appointing a larger number of CPIOs, including at the branch level, so as to ensure that RTI applications are attended to promptly and the need to move the same from one office to another is done away with, to the extent possible.
(c) Put in place an effective monitoring system to account for the RTI applications received by various offices of the public authority and ensure timely action on the same.
(d) To introduce a system to maintain complete record in respect of the RTI applications that have to be moved from one office to another, so that in the event an application is lost, responsibility can be fixed for the same.
17. We also enclose a copy of the submission dated 30.3.2015 of the Appellant to the Commission, inter alia, regarding the shortcomings in the information provided to him by the CPIO vide his letter dated 30.12.2014. We direct the CPIO to provide a response to the Appellant in regard to the points mentioned at point No. 5 of the submission, within twenty days of the receipt of this order, under intimation to the Commission. The information should be provided free of charge.
18. With the above directions and observations, the appeal is disposed of.
19. Copies of this order be given free of cost to the parties. The Registry is directed to forward a copy of this order by name, besides the usual recipients, to the MD of the bank with reference to paragraph 16 above.
Citation: Shri Mannu Singh v. Vijaya Bank in File No. CIC/SH/C/2014/00002