High Court gives booster dose to RTI

A strict penalty imposed by a state Information Commission against an official was upheld by the judiciary. This might well act as a shot in the arm for the RTI movement.

In a boost to the Right To Information (RTI) movement in the country, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in February this year, upheld the levy of penalty by the Haryana State Information Commission, on the State Public Information Officer (SPIO) for delay in furnishing information to an RTI applicant. The Commission had levied a fine of Rs.19250, at the rate of Rs.250 per day for a 77-day delay caused by the SPIO in servicing the RTI application.

CIC-VerdictCartoon: Narasimha Vedala

It is only recently that RTI users in Bangalore stumbled upon this case, and clearly, they are pleased. They pointed out that it sets a precedent for the State Information Commissions and empowers the public to act against errant public information officers who deliberately and malafidely delay or deny information to legitimate RTI applicants.

"The Karnataka Commission too has levied penalties in cases, but they have used their discretion on the amount," says RTI activist Anil Kumar. "The RTI Act is clear that it is Rs.250 per day of delay, so we don’t know under what clause Karnataka Commission uses their discretion. They have even levied Rs.500 as penalty in one case," adds Kumar.

"I should congratulate the Punjab and Haryana High Court for this judgment which is a very good one for RTI," says Kumar.

The case in question pertains to an RTI application of October 2006 made to the Kurukshetra University, Haryana. Dismissing an appeal by the SPIO against the levy of penalty by the State Information Commission, the High Court noted that the RTI applicant was made to wait beyond the stipulated 30-day period. He had to then appeal before the Commission which was the Second Appellate Authority under the RTI Act.

The Commission asked him to go to the First Appellate Authority not knowing that it did not exist and so he had to come back to the Commission. The First Appellate Authority was constituted only later.

All this back and forth caused the delay of 77 days before the applicant got the information he wanted. The Commission acting upon the powers entrusted to it under the Act then imposed a penalty on the SPIO. The Commission said that the SPIO was not able to show that the delay occured due to reasonable cause. "In fact the SPIO has acted in a most casual manner in processing the application with the result that there has been a delay of 77 days in furnishing the information," the Commission noted.

The SPIO then petitioned the High Court against the Commission’s order, which the Court dismissed, and upheld the penalty.

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