Politics

Election Row: Haryana Refuses to Say Whether Erring Official was Punished

An RTI asking whether disciplinary action was taken against R K Nandal, a state assembly official who was pulled up by the Election Commission last year, has been rejected on the grounds of privacy.

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in the state assembly. Credit: PTI

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in the state assembly. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Haryana has refused to provide information on what disciplinary actions have been taken against a state assembly official, who last year was censured by the Election Commission of India for allowing the use of an “unauthorised pen” in the Rajya Sabha elections.

Last year , the Election Commission of India (ECI) held R K Nandal, secretary of the Haryana legislative assembly, guilty of “concealment of material facts” and “willful non-compliance” of the commission’s lawful directions.

“…In the Commission’s view, this is a serious case of lack of supervisory control and negligence in performance of duty that an unauthorized pen was found inside the voting compartment and another unauthorised pen was surreptitiously used for marking ballot papers which led to rejection of 12 ballot papers on that count,” the EC had said at the time.

Lawyer and RTI activist Hemant Kumar recently filed a plea with the state public information officer of the state assembly, asking what “appropriate action” had been taken by the speaker with regard to the letter sent by the EC to Haryana’s chief secretary, which had recommended strong disciplinary action against Nandal.

The state, however, has refused to part with any information, claiming cover behind Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Revealing info on action would “invade” privacy, says PIO

To Kumar’s surprise, the reply stated that “the scope and ambit of section 8(1)(j) has been explained in the recent decision of the full bench (of the Central Information Commission) in the case of Rakesh Kumar Singh vs Lok Sabha Secretariat and that as per the same “if one were to ask information about a third party and if it were to invade the privacy of the individual, the information seeker can be denied the information on the ground that disclosure would invade the privacy of a third party.”

Following receipt of this response dated September 20, 2017, Kumar filed an appeal with the First Appellate Authority at Haryana assembly stating that he was not satisfied with the response of the SPIO since he had “declined to supply the desired information as sought by the appellant”.

Information not personal, says petitioner

Questioning how the requisite information was denied by invoking Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, Kumar said the information on action against the assembly secretary was “by no sort of imagination any sort of personal information”.

He noted that it was the Election Commission of India which had by its letter dated September 9, 2016 directed initiation of disciplinary action to be taken against secretary of Haryana assembly and therefore it was surprising that information in this regard could be termed as “personal information”

EC had recommended disciplinary action

The Election Commission had in September 2016 indicted Haryana Assembly secretary in the ink row during Rajya Sabha poll and recommended disciplinary action against him for concealment of facts and negligence while ordering lodging of an FIR against “unknown persons”. It had also recommended disciplinary action against Nandal, who as assembly secretary was the returning officer for the election. It was a rare case in which culpability of a senior officer was fixed and action ordered.

Subsequently, an FIR was registered by the state police on the instructions of Election Commission of India. The complainant in the case was senior lawyer R.K. Anand who had contested the election as an independent candidate with the support of the Indian National Lok Dal, but had lost the poll to Subhash Chandra of the BJP after 12 votes were rejected because of the use of an “unauthorised pen”.

`PIO cited clause incorrectly, selectively’

Kumar has in his appeal to the FAA also noted that under Section 8(1)(j) it has been clearly laid down that “provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a state legislature shall not be denied to any person”.

In light of this, Kumar has questioned if the information denied to him about action against the assembly secretary could also be denied to Parliament or the state legislature.

Moreover, he has also asserted that the “third party” clause has also been quoted selectively by the SPIO in his reply since “the appellant does not intend to invade the privacy of any third party by any means”. This said, Kumar is hopeful that this time the information sought would be made available to him by the assembly secretariat.