Recently, Shri L.K Advani, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and a member of Appointment Committee of the Information Commission, upset by the fact that the Commission has become an all babu-affair, declined to attend the CIC expansion meet called by its Chairperson, the Prime Minister. While section 12 (5) of the Act provides wide-ranging fields?law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance?to chose persons of eminence from them for the posts of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners, it is not clear why only the babus are chosen to occupy these exalted offices? No wonder, they have soft-corner for the bureaucratic fraternity they come from and their decisions are heavily loaded in favour of the public authorities providing the guilty many escape routes to ride over an inconvenient situation whereas actions and remarks of the poor information-seekers are considered an affront to the authorities that be. Even after more than 60 years of Independence, the colonial mind-set reigns supreme and the bureaucracy finds it difficult to shed.
The new law has been invested with some empowering provisions for the people, aimed at introducing elements of transparency and accountability in administration and to contain, if not completely eliminate, corruption. But as things are, we live in a society where more the things change, more they remain the same. Came on the heels the dubious ?Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations, 2007- made by the Chief Information Commissioner on 13-06-2007 and enforced post-haste by him after a week i.e. from 21-06-2007- which is proving its undoing. Ostensibly brought about ?for better internal management of the affairs of Central Information Commission so as to enable it to function effectively?, it actually puts the RTI Act-2005 way beyond the reach of a common man by rendering the process of seeking information under the Act an exorbitantly expensive, unduly complicated, complex, cumbersome, torturous and lengthy affair. To cap it all, the clever bureaucracy is so skilled in the art of dodging and has so many tricks up its sleeves in giving the slip to inconvenient queries and disowning responsibility that it easily gets away without supplying the information/ documents it wants to conceal or at best by supplying incomplete and irrelevant information and loading the information-seeker with all the rubbish he does not want that in 90 out of hundred cases one has to file complaint or Second Appeal to the Central Information Commission and/ or 2nd Appellate Authority- the apex body under u/s 18 or 19 (3) of the Act.
Instead of binding the officialdom to act more responsibly, standardising the fees and procedure structure?which differs from State to State?so as to make it identical throughout the country and plugging the multiple loopholes in the Act which render it ineffective, the Regulations, 2007 go on to prescribe a very costly, complex and cumbersome procedure for filing the Second Appeal or Complaint with the apex body i.e. the CIC.
Even after a decision/ order is announced, nothing prevents the CPIO from again supplying incomplete, wrong and unwanted information/ documents by putting up an act of compliance. Not quite infrequently, even the decisions/ orders leave much leeway for the CPIO to get away without providing any information at all. For example, in a very simple case where an applicant had requested for the information etc. regarding the action taken on and the status of a few representations made by him to a public authority, the Central Information Commission allowed the public authority to get off without supplying any of the requested information. In their order, they observed, ?The information solicited herein is about policy matters for which no definite answer could have been given????..? They, inter-alia, went on to say, ?Yet the respondents are agreeable to allow the appellant to inspect the files / records related to his RTI request????? (Case No. CIC/AT/A/2007/00574 dated 19-0707). What files/records to inspect when the Public Authority/ custodian is unable to locate them in their office? A single stroke of pen scrubbed down all efforts made by the appellant and at the end of the day (it was more than a year!) he was poorer by a few hundred rupees and as ignorant about the status of his representations as before filing the application for information, first appeal and second appeal and few other applications and requests in between and paying fees all the way for the unwanted documents in place of those requested for which allegedly are not traceable.
Instead of insulating the irresponsible, should they have not ordered disciplinary action against those responsible for the gross mismanagement of vital and important records which are mandated to be preserved permanently under the rules? Also in another case, CPIO of NISCAIR (C.S.I.R) pleads ignorance of the documents-two medical reimbursement bills sent to them under Speed Post on separate dates from separate Post Offices even when the proof of their delivery to the addressee got conclusively confirmed in writing by the competent postal authority and a certificate issued by them to that effect was submitted long back to the Public Authority who as of now is maintaining stoic silence over the matter and not even acknowledging the Appellant'srepeated reminders and the first appeal. These few examples of miscarriage of justice are merely illustrative and by no means exhaustive.
The Act does not provide for any relief in the form of compensation for the wrongs suffered by an aggrieved information seeker at the hands of arrogant public authority who have little reason to be wary of it.
(The writer can be contacted at C-1-A-42B, MIG Flats, Janakpuri, New Delhi.)