More than 60 per cent of the total fine amount imposed on the information officials by the Haryana State Information Commission over the past 14 years has yet not been deposited to the state exchequer by them, revealed the information procured from the panel under the RTI Act.
RTI activists feel that authorities should act against such officers who first don’t supply information and later don’t deposit the fine to the state exchequer.
In response to an RTI query filed by a Karnal-based lawyer Shakti Singh, the Commission has informed that a fine of total Rs 3.79 crore has been imposed on the officials during 2006 to July 2020 but only Rs 1.48 crore has been recovered during the corresponding period. “The state government and the Commission should ensure recovery of the pending penalty amount of Rs 2.31 crore,” said Shakti Singh.
The information mentions the penalty as imposed in 2006 and 2007 was recovered in the respective years but after that a considerable amount was not recovered from the erring officials. Such penalty is normally imposed on the officials for not supplying information to the applicants within the prescribed period. Sources associated with the Commission reveal that some of the officials did not deposit the penalty amount even after passing of several years.
“It shows how seriously they take the orders of the Commission,” said an RTI activist PP Kapoor, who has approached the Lokayukta to seek action against those officials who don’t deposit the penalty within stipulated time period.
“The state government should initiate disciplinary proceedings against such officials apart from recovering the penalty amount from them. Such officials weaken the spirit of the RTI Act which is meant to ensure transparency in the administrative system. Not only the junior officials, but some officers of the state civil services have also not deposited the penalty amount,” Kapoor pointed out.
The RTI activist has suggested the Commission to set up a special cell to ensure recovery of the penalty from the officials apart from ensuring action against them as per the orders of the panel.
In his complaint to the Lokayukta recently, Kapoor had urged the anti-corruption ombudsman to pass orders against 1,726 information officers in which they may be asked to deposit the penalty amount along with the interest.
According to the information procured by Kapoor earlier, the penalty imposed on State Public Information Officers (SPIOs) ranges from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1.75 lakh.
Former State Information Commissioner Hemant Atri said that the Commission should have a mechanism to ensure compliance of its orders.
Atri recalled how he, as a Commissioner, used to make the First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) accountable to ensure implementation of his directions while mentioning the same in his orders. “Information Commissioners should be better trained to pass orders in such a way that the DDOs (Drawing and Disbursing Officers) and FAAs are held responsible, in case the officials concerned don’t deposit the penalty amount to the state exchequer on time. If the DDOs and FAAs fail to ensure compliance of the Commission orders, action may be initiated against them under Section 20 (2) of the RTI Act, 2005,” said Atri.
If the SPIO doesn’t supply information under the RTI Act, the applicant may file an appeal before the senior officer of the department designated as FAA. If the applicant doesn’t get relief even after that, he or she may approach the Commission which can impose the penalty apart from recommending departmental action against the erring officials. During the past 14 years, the Commission has ordered disciplinary action against 1,640 officials in the state. Also, the panel has ordered compensation worth Rs 81 lakh to the applicants in lieu of their expenses and harassment involved in finally getting the required information.
Meanwhile, Shakti Singh has demanded that a bench of the Commission should be set up in each of the six revenue divisions of the state to further facilitate the RTI applicants at local level. Currently, the Commission has its office in Chandigarh.