November 17, 2021 7:15:32 am
A group of RTI activists in Haryana have objected to the amendment in RTI Act rules that “suggests” that an applicant needs to submit their identity card while filing an application. They have also blamed the authorities for taking “shelter of an Apex court observation to deny information related to academic qualification and experience certificates of officials being disclosed under the Act.”
The activits claimed that the new amended rules were “aimed at blocking information under the law which was originally introduced by the Parliament to ensure transparency in the system.”
Government officials, however, insist that the new provisions that have been introduced are in lines of judgments of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and those of the Supreme Court.
This, however, has failed to placate the RTI activists, who on Tuesday gathered in Chandigarh, in protest. The activists said that the Supreme Court judgment that the government officials had referred to was a mere “observation by the Apex Court but the officials are using to deny information related to officials’ academic qualification and experience certificates”. They have also objected to the mandatory provision for the applicants to produce their identity proof, along with their application while seeking information under the RTI Act.
The activists, led by PP Kapoor, on Tuesday submitted a memorandum to Haryana Chief Information Commissioner, Yashpal Singh — who is a retired IPS officer — stating that in the original Act passed by the Parliament, no such provision of producing identity proof had been mentioned.
Government officials say that the state government had added the provision of identity proof – Aadhaar card, passport, PAN card, Parivar Pehchan Patra card or government issued identity card – on April 12, 2021 by amending the Haryana Right to Information Rules, 2009. The officials say the decision to add the provision of identity cards was taken to avoid misuse of the provisions of law by seeking information on the basis of a fake name and address. A government official also claimed that provision of ID proof was made mandatory, following an order of Punjab and Haryana High Court which was delivered a few years back. However, RTI activist and High Court lawyer, HC Arora, said, “A single bench of the High Court had made the provision of identity proof mandatory, while a two-member bench of the same court had stated that there was no need of identity proof for seeking information under the RTI Act. I have approached the High Court seeking clarity in the matter.”
PP Kapoor added, “The RTI Act was introduced to ensure transparency and accountability in the system. The process to supply information should be as simple as possible. Even the state information commission had also made it clear that no authority can force an RTI applicant to submit identity proof while seeking information under the Act. No other state has imposed the condition of identity proof along with the RTI application. But an RTI application was returned to me on the basis of April 12 notification which suggests for ID proof in its model form for applicants.”
On January 5, the state government also circulated a copy of the SC order (dated November 13, 2019 and titled CPIO, Supreme Court of India versus Subhash Chandra Agarwal) stating the Apex court has defined “personal information” in the order. Kapoor said that on the basis of this order the information officers in Haryana are refusing to share educational degrees and experience certificates of officials claiming it as “personal information” of the official concerned.
However, a government official says: “The degrees or experience certificates are sometimes sought just to harass the official concerned because of personal enmity. The 2019 order of SC was passed by a five-member constitutional bench.”
Officials to pay fine from their pockets
The Haryana State Information Commission has planned to deduct the penalty amount from the salary of officials concerned. A senior officer of the commission told The Indian Express, “The state government in-principal has agreed for a reduction from the salary of the official concerned in case the commission imposes a penalty on him or her for failing to provide information to the applicant under the RTI Act.”
The officer further said: “In past 16 years, the commission has imposed a penalty of Rs 4.28 crore for not supplying information to the RTI applicants. As much as Rs 2.48 crore is yet to be recovered.
However, the recovery rate has improved to 48 per cent in nearly one year from the previous recovery rate of 30-31 per cent. In little over one year, the Haryana State Information Commission has imposed a penalty of Rs 95 lakh on the officials for failing to supply the information. This is the highest in the country. The maximum pending penalty belongs to village sarpanches who are supposed to act as information officers in case the information is related to the works executed by the village panchayats.”
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