January 29, 2021 4:49:12 am
In two separate orders, the Gujarat State Information Commission (GSIC) has prohibited four persons from filing applications under the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act before the state authorities, stating that the RTI Act “cannot be used as a tool for taking revenge”.
Taking objection to the two orders of the GSIC, former chief minister Suresh Mehta and eight other citizens have submitted a memorandum to the Commission requesting it to ‘re-think’ the orders or to constitute a full-bench to review the same. In the first instance, Manojkumar Sarpadadiya, a conductor with Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) and native of Amreli district, has been blacklisted by the GSIC from seeking information under the Act from any authorities in the state.
Gujarat State Information Commissioner Ramesh Karia passed the order on December 11, 2020, while adjudicating an appeal of Sarpadadiya seeking certain information related to his complaints lodged before the Gujarat Vigilance Commission.
During the hearing of the appeal, the order records that various Information Officers have informed the Commission that Sarpadadiya was suspended twice in cases of ticket theft with initiation of departmental inquiries. Therefore, the Commission was told, he had become ‘habituated’ in seeking various information under RTI. The Information Officers also informed the Commission that from 2017 till date Sarpadadiya had filed more than 170 RTI applications and more than 140 appeals.
“The Commission thinks that the plaintiff holds cantankerous mentality and is a person who keeps on creating nuisance before public authorities and the Commission,” the order, a copy of which is with this paper, reads.
It seems, the order states, by seeking meaningless information, the plaintiff is mocking the provisions of the RTI Act.
The order also states that it seems that the plaintiff has filed the RTI applications seeking meaningless and inconsistent information to take revenge because he has grievance with his employer organisation.
The second order of the GSIC, dated January 5 and passed by Chief Information Commissioner DP Thaker, directs public information officers of three authorities of the health department in Bhavnagar district to not accept any RTI application or appeal and not to respond to the same, from three persons of the same family, for five years. They have been identified as Chintan Makwana, his wife Dilahariben and his mother Bharatiben.
The matter pertains to vacating a residential quarter entitled to a Class II rank official in the district. Dilahariben is a class III employee in a Community Health Centre (CHC) in the district. She was reportedly living in a residential quarter, which is otherwise entitled to a class II official, along with her husband and mother-in-law.
The order records a dispute related to vacating the quarter after a medical officer of Class II was posted at the place, resulting in a police complaint and counter complaint.
It was stated that the three have been seeking identical information through different RTI applications and that they have been sending emails to various authorities, including the Prime Minister’s Office, repeatedly. The Commission was informed by the defendants, the health department authorities of Bhavnagar district, that the three have filed more than 21 RTI applications and sent more than 1,000 emails and the quarter is yet to be vacated.
In its order imposing prohibitions on the Makwanas, the Commission states, “The Commission thinks that the complainants are having mentality of taking revenge and create nuisance for public authorities… The complainant has a right to seek information under the RTI Act, but (he) does not get the right to seek information on the same point repeatedly. Citizen has no right to repeat. Repeated applications affect functioning of public authorities also.”
Taking strong objection to the two orders of the GSIC, Suresh Mehta and eight others — journalist and historian Hari Desai, environment activist Mahesh Pandya and RTI activists Pankaj Bhatt, Alpesh Bhavsar, Kantilal Parmar, Kirit Rathod, Harinesh Pandya and Pankti Jog — submitted a memorandum to Chief Information Commissioner Dilip Thaker and five other Information Commissioners.
Their memorandum said, “RTI Act does not have provision to punish citizen, to blacklist or to prevent, withdraw her/his power to use RTI in any further circumstance for life time or for certain period.” It added,“The allegations mentioned about the applicants are to be dealt by state under various other laws and the state government is fully empowered to do so.” Officials of the GSIC were not available for comment.
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