PIO of Auroville Foundation stated that the Nodal officer was under suspension and later retired due to which RTI Applications were not transferred till new login credential for the RTI portal were received - Notice issued to the PIO for imposing penalty
The Appellant sought following information:
1. Please confirm whether the office of the Auroville Foundation has transferred, directly or indirectly, Government of India funds from accounts for which it is responsible to the Central Public Works Department in 2022. In particular, please state:
a. The amount of funds transferred;
a. The dates of any transfers that have taken place;
b. The reasons given by the office of the Auroville Foundation for any transfers effected and the reasons of the Central Public Works Department to accept these transfers;
c. The stated authorizing person from the office of the Auroville Foundation for effecting the transfers
d. The extent to which any transferred amounts will be transferred back to accounts held by the Auroville Foundation or otherwise set aside for utilization by the Auroville Foundation at some point in the future.
• Dissatisfied with the response received from PIO, Appellant filed First Appeal, vide letter dated 28.03.2022.
• PIO furnished reply, vide letter dated 08.09.2023, as under: Confidential information are not disclosed to the third party. The CAG is taking care of auditing the annual accounts every financial year.
• Dissatisfied with the response received from PIO, Appellant filed First Appeal, vide letter dated 26.08.2022.
Grounds for Second Appeal:
The PIO has not provided correct information to the Appellant.
Relevant Facts emerging during Hearing:
The following were present: -
Appellant: Mr. Suchindran Baskar Narayan, Advocate
Respondent: Prof. Setharaman, CPIO/ Officer on Special Duty.
The Authorised Representative of Appellant has submitted that the relevant information has not been furnished by the Respondent within stipulated time frame. He further submitted that under the Auroville Foundation Act, the Respondent Public Authority is bound to maintain & store requisite information as sought in the instant RTI Application. He stated that the Respondent has denied the information on the pretext of Confidential Information without quoting any specific exemption clause as per the provisions of the RTI Act. He stated that the Institute is embroiled in mis-management and corruption, and other activities against the Laws of the Union of India and passing secret office orders without communicating the same to the residents. He further requested the Commission to direct the CPIO to furnish the relevant information. He insisted to impose penalty upon the CPIO.
Upon queried regarding the delay in furnishing the reply to the instant RTI Application, the PIO stated that the Under Secretary was the Nodal officer who was under Suspension from 14th April 2023 and retired on 31st July 2023 due to which RTI Applications were not transferred by the Nodal officer within stipulated time frame. Further, they have received the new login credential for the RTI portal and they in the process of furnishing reply to all the RTI Applications.
Commission has gone through the case records and on the basis of proceedings during hearing expresses severe displeasure over the conduct of the then CPIO (designated official at the time of receipt of the instant RTI Application) in not having provided any reply on the RTI Application within the stipulated time frame of RTI Act. Now, Commission was unable to procure the name of the then PIO, therefore Commission directs then CPIO (as stated above) through the present CPIO to send his/her written submissions to justify as to why action should not be initiated against him/her under Section 20 of the RTI Act for the gross violation of its provisions. In doing so, if any other persons are also responsible for the omission, the then PIO shall serve a copy of this order on such other persons under intimation to the Commission and ensure that written submissions of all such concerned persons are sent to the Commission. The said written submission of then PIO along with submissions of other concerned persons, if any, should reach the Commission within 30 days from the date of receipt of this order.
Commission, after perusal of case records and submissions made during hearing, observes that no cogent reply has been furnished by the CPIO and while denying the requisite information the CPIO has failed to claim any exemption under the RTI Act. It is pertinent to mention here that in order to deny information, it is important that the denial should be as per the provisions of the RTI Act and also if any of the exemption clauses mentioned under Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005 is claimed, the Respondent is required to provide justification or establish the reason why such exemption was claimed. In the given circumstances, the CPIO is directed to consider the instant RTI application afresh and furnish a point-wise reply, as available in their records, with regards to the instant RTI Application, to the Appellant, free of cost via speed post, within 30 days from the date of receipt of this order and accordingly compliance report to this effect be duly sent to the Commission by the PIO.
In case relevant information, as sought in the instant RTI Application, pertains to some other Branch/Department, then the PIO should procure and provide the same to the Appellant. In doing so, PIO must make sure that information which is exempted from disclosure under RTI Act, 2005 must not be disclosed to the Appellant and in case the CPIO is claiming any exemption under the RTI Act, the same should be properly justified. No further action lies.
The appeal is disposed of accordingly.
Citation: Arun Cherian v. Auroville Foundation (Ministry of Education), CIC/AFOUN/A/2022/654046; Date of Decision : 17.10.2023