New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) recently disposed of a set of 1,282 appeals in one go. These applications were filed under the Right to Information Act, by a wing commander of the Indian Air Force against different commands. Consequently, the move brought down the pendency of cases in the panel drastically.
The historic disposal of appeals took place when Central Information Commissioner D.P. Sinha dismissed a batch of appeals filed by Wing Commander Sanjeev Sharma.
In the landmark 67-page order, Sinha said there were two versions to the basic crux of these appeals – “one, of the appellant who claims it is for venting the corrupt practices within the air force establishments and to bring in transparency in the several air force ventures” and two, of the respondent Indian Air Force, which claimed that these applications arose out of the wing commander’s “vindictive intent, meant only to harass the public authority for perceived injustice meted out to him while in service.”
The CIC also observed that the appellant had contended that, “by seeking such multitude of information he aims to bring in transparency and accountability to the functioning of these ventures since it involves fiscal resources raised out of fees and subscriptions of the combatants/officers and in effect it is public money.”
On the other hand, it noted that the central public information officers (CPIO) of the air force said that the appellant went on premature retirement in May 2013, and during his posting he was diagnosed with “generalised anxiety disorder,” for which he was under treatment since the year 2007.
Sharma had filed various applications and almost 359 Redressal of Grievances (ROGs) alleging corruption by his seniors. Sinha further observed that “it is submitted that the appellant is aggrieved by the dismissal of his perceived grievances as all his ROGs and other applications filed against the functioning of the station administration of the units where he was posted as well as the senior authorities were found to be devoid of merit.”
The air force said the wing commander had put up approximately 6,443 RTI applications to various CPIOs and a corresponding number of first and second appeals. A total of 3,588 second appeals filed by him were disposed earlier in November 2015.
Sinha observed that “a perusal of the content of the RTI applications reflect more on the cumbersome way of framing these in having sought for ten kinds of information within a single query.”
With the appellant seeking 11 broad categories of information pertaining to 17 different arms of the Indian Air Force, a composite reading of the subject matter had been raised and heard. The commission decided that the present appeal was devoid of any merit, which may warrant separate hearings. Sinha noted that the Delhi high court had on January 11, 2017, stayed the operations of the directions given by the commission in its order of November 19, 2015 and thus there cannot be any separate line of adjudication till the matter is finally decided by the court.
While sparingly acknowledging that this was an attempt on the appellant’s part to fight corruption within the IAF, Sinha said “on the hindsight, however noble the end of this vociferous attempt of bringing about probity in the functioning of IAF would have been, fact remains that the means adopted by the appellant regrettably speaks volumes of his ignorance of the spirit of the RTI Act.”
He said, “as much as the CPIO has a statutory responsibility of complying with the provisions of the RTI Act, it is also expected of the RTI applicants to not transgress the spirit of the RTI Act and resort to clogging the functioning of the public authority by filing mundane RTI applications merely claiming that it is intrinsic to fighting corruption.”
In this regard, the CIC said it would have been cogent for the appellant to have filed RTI applications systematically, which would have avoided redundancy.
The commission also marked an advisory and a copy of its order to the chief of the air staff and the defence secretary stating that the resources spent by the wing commander also “speak of certain kind of accountability which appears to be lacking in the IAF”.
Pointing to the lack of sufficient number of CPIOs and assistant PIOs in the air force, Sinha said the case has highlighted the “kind of importance that is accorded to the RTI Act provisions” and the “dismal rate of disposing first appeals by the concerned FAAs [First Appellate Authorities]”.
He, therefore, said that the number of CPIOs and APIOs need to be increased, suggesting that there be at least one at each unit or station. He also said it ought to be made incumbent upon the controlling officers to conduct workshops and sensitisation programmes for the CPIOs and FAAs regarding the various provisions of the RTI Act.
Responding to the record disposal of cases, due to which the pendency at CIC witnessed a sharp drop from 26,582 at 12:15 pm on April 21 to 25,483 at 8:10 am the following morning, RTI activist Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh C. Batra said “it is a landmark order” that needed to be emulated by other commissioners for its “comprehensive reading of the excerpts, analysis and submissions of both the parties.”