The Central Information Commission (CIC) has called into question the conduct of the chief public information officer (CPIO) and of a consultant and an adviser at the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), for denying information to an appellant, Ajit Kumar Singh, about the the number of complaints received by the panel, the decisions in the cases where the accused were found guilty and the relief that was granted to them.
While the NCPCR’s mandate is to ensure that all laws, policies, programmes and administrative mechanisms are in consonance with the child rights perspective as enshrined in the constitution of India and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the denial of information by the commission has raised doubts about the transparency of the organisation.
The CPIO, G. Suresh, in his reply on May 17, stated that the “information sought by the appellant was not disclosable as per exemption under section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act”. However, the central information commissioner, M. Sridhar Acharyulu, held, “The NCPCR uses a privacy exception to refuse entire information en bloc. No effort is done to provide information which could have been disclosed on their own under Section 4(1)(b)”. The CIC further clarified that “except the name of the child, nothing could be denied”.
Consultant, adviser misguiding NCPCR
Acharyulu also raised questions about the conduct of the the adviser, Rakesh Bhartiya, and consultant, Raman Gaur, appointed by the NCPCR. He said that both Bhartiya and Gaur misguided the commission to deny the information.
“These two experienced seniors did not even provide reasons to justify the denial. They failed to perform their duty to separate information that can be given from the information that cannot be given, as prescribed under Section 10(1) of the RTI Act. They do not know that Section 10 provides for severability,” the interim order of the CIC said.
Stating that the CPIO, adviser and consultant had not only refused to divulge information “without forwarding any justification”, Acharyulu said they had also “bluntly rejected the entire information, abusing section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.”
“It is most unfortunate that the consultant and advisor have guided the CPIO and the public authority to breach the RTI Act,” he added.
Questions pertained to core functioning of the NCPCR
Going into the merits of the plea, the CIC said, “When the appellant was not seeking names and personal information and wanted information about the number of cases left out without any action, or action taken and pending before the commission for years, public authority cannot invoke Section 8(1)(j) at all.”
He said the question raised by the appellant about the action taken by the NCPCR on four-year-old complaints was in “public interest” and related to its “core function”.
The CIC also directed the NCPCR to provide, within 15 days, information regarding cases pending for over two years pertaining to the Bihar circle and the details of disposal of cases where the accused were found guilty, after removing names and personal details of children.
It also directed the CPIO, the adviser and the senior consultant, who appeared in the matter as “deemed PIOs”, to show-cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon them for illegal obstruction of information.