Updated: August 15, 2021 1:04:31 pm
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has cautioned an officer of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for the “casual manner” he displayed while dealing with applications filed under the RTI Act. The CIC also directed the central public information officer (CPIO) of the ministry to provide the information the officer concerned had denied “without application of mind”.
Chief Information Commissioner Y K Sinha issued this warning in his order on Friday on a second appeal filed by The Sunday Express.
An application was filed with The Consular, Passport and Visa (CPV) Division on June 24, 2019, asking the “total number of Indian passport holders who have surrendered their passports during 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 separately for various reasons”. On July 18, 2019, CPIO Subodh Kumar responded that the requisite information does not come under the definition of “information” as per the RTI Act. A first appeal against the CPIO’s response was also rejected by the ministry.
Interestingly, the office provided the same information only a month back for the years 2014 to 2019 on June 21, 2019, on another application filed by The Indian Express.
In his order, Sinha stated, “The Commission observes that the RTI application was mechanically replied to by the erstwhile CPIO without application of mind. The Commission thus cautions the erstwhile CPIO and Dy Passport Officer (Ops) Shri Subodh Kumar to ensure that RTI applications are not dealt with in a casual manner in future.”
During the hearing, the MEA was represented by advocate Pavitra Ray Chaudhary, who admitted that “an incorrect reply was provided by the then CPIO”. He said “statistical information as available on records shall be supplied to the RTI applicant if an order of remand is passed by the Commission”. Sinha directed the current CPIO of the CPV division of the MEA “to re-examine the RTI application and provide the information” within one month.
During the hearing, The Sunday Express pleaded that besides the similar information that has already been provided, the requisite information very much comes under the definition of “information” under the RTI Act.
Section 2(f) of the RTI Act defines “information” as “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force”.
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