For More Info Log on to

Google Groups Subscribe to RTI Group
Browse Archives at

Sunday, April 15, 2007

No more passing the info buck

Jehangir B Gai
RTI—how to stop PIOs from passing the buck
Most public authorities and government undertakings have appointed not just one Public Information Officer but several PIOs. Each PIO is entrusted with a specific jurisdiction to deal with a particular type of information sought. So what happens when an applicant wants information which falls within the jurisdiction of different PIOs? Does the applicant have to make separate applications to each thereby being required to make multiple applications and pay separate application fees? Or will one application to any PIO suffice?
This interesting issue has recently been decided by the Central Information Commission in a landmark ruling in the case of Er. Sarbajit Roy v/s Delhi Development Authority, in appeal number 10/1/2005-CIC decided on 25-2-2006 by Padma Balasubramanian, Information Commissioner and Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner.

Case Study:
Sarbajit Roy had applied to a PIO of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for certain information. However, the PIO transferred his application to another PIO of DDA according to jurisdiction. This resulted in delays and harassment for the applicant. Also, the application proforma required the applicant to disclose the reason for seeking information. Roy ultimately appealed to the Central Information Commission regarding the procedure adopted by DDA.
The authority defended its action by claiming that when an application is made requesting information which is held by or is more closely connected to the functions of another public authority, then Section 6 (3) of the RTI Act provides that such an application shall be transferred to the appropriate public authority within five days.
DDA’s argument was rejected by the commission holding that Section 6(3) of the RTI Act was applicable only when different public authorities were involved, and not when internal adjustments were required within a single public authority such as DDA. It further observed that while PIOs as well as the APIOs were empowered to receive and deal
with information requests as also render reasonable assistance to applicants, it was only a PIO who was required to provide information.
When an application is received by an APIO, he is required only to forward the same forthwith to a PIO of the public authority. Division of responsibilities among PIOs is not prescribed for a public authority to ease faster access and dissemination of information. Thus the law is clear that a request for information may be received at every office or administrative unit or every sub-level also. It is not required that only a PIO appointed u/s 5 (1) may accept requests for information pertaining to his administrative unit or ‘jurisdiction’ as this will impede access to information.
Regarding the application proforma asking the applicant to disclose the reason for seeking information, the commission observed that it had already held in another matter that such a question was contrary to the provisions of Section 6 (2) of the RTI Act. Accordingly, it directed DDA to modify the form. During the hearing, a grievance was made about the failure of the contesting parties to exchange copies of the documents filed by them. The commission held that once it had taken cognizance of a matter, copies of subsequent pleadings must be served on the contesting parties to encourage a suitable and timely response.
The interpretation of the RTI Act through this landmark ruling has given a shot in the arm to citizens by making it cheaper, easier and more convenient to access information. An applicant can approach any PIO of a public authority for information. It is for the PIO to internally sort out the matter regardless of his jurisdiction, obtain the information and furnish it to the applicant.
Now a citizen will no longer be required to shuttle between different PIOs within the same public authority, and a PIO will not be able to pass the buck by claiming that the subject matter of the information sought is not within his jurisdiction.
(The author has won the Govt of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His e-mail is
Publication: Times of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Apr 09; Section:Times City; Page Number 4

No comments: