CIC RK Mathur told the PMO to “be careful and give inputs for reply within the timeline prescribed by the RTI Act”.
New Delhi: Over a year after Reliance took out an advertisement to announce the launch of Reliance Jio with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photograph displayed prominently on it, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is still shying away from replying to Right to Information queries on whether “any permission was taken from PMO by Reliance/Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited for the use of the PM’s photograph in their advertisements in different newspapers and TV channels, etc”.
CIC head advises caution to PMO
In an order on an application filed by appellant Neeraj Sharma, Chief Information Commissioner R.K. Mathur recently cautioned the central public information officer (CPIO) in the PMO to “be careful and give inputs for reply within the timeline prescribed by the RTI Act”.
Since the PMO had not replied to the matter on time and had also diverted the application to another department which had claimed that it was not privy to the information, the CIC also “cautioned” it “to take due care in future in dealing with the RTI application”.
In his application filed on September 4, 2016, Sharma had sought information on seven points including whether any permission was taken from PMO by Reliance for placing the advertisement in question. The CPIO had responded exactly a month later following which Sharma filed the first appeal on October 21, 2016, with the First Appellate Authority (FAA). On receiving the FAA’s response on November 11, he filed a second appeal with the Central Information Commission on December 27 on the grounds that information be provided to him.
Applicant accuses PMO of using ‘mala fide tactics’ to delay response
In the hearing before CIC Mathur, Sharma charged that the sought information had not been provided to him. He alleged that the PMO was “using mala fide tactics to delay the response to his RTI application by giving interim reply”.
The appellant also stated that there was no provision in the RTI Act for giving an interim reply. He said while the PMO had provided him an interim reply on October 4, 2016 and the final reply on April 25, 2017 the information he had sought was “not been furnished to him”.
In his order, Mathur also recorded how “the appellant stated that if the information is not available with the respondent, they should not have keep the RTI application pending for a long time”. Sharma had also contended that the information sought in point 7 about the permission was not transferred to the concerned public authority within five days as per the RTI Act.
‘Matter relates to public interest’
“Further, the appellant stated that this matter relates to public interest as Reliance Jio campaign bearing picture of the Hon’ble Prime Minister was construed to be government message and people were assuming that the said company is a government company,” Mathur recorded in his order.
He also noted that the appellant had requested the Commission to impose a penalty upon the CPIO of PMO under section 20 of the RTI Act.
As for the CPIO, he stated that the appellant had been finally replied to on April 4, 2017 and that the first appeal was disposed of on November 17, 2016. The PMO held that “the appellant has been informed that the sought for information does not form part of the record held by their office”.
Mathur noted that the PMO stated that while “the interim reply does not have any value in the eye of law”, however, they had still given it “so that the applicant at least knows that his application has been received and is under process.”
The PMO also claimed that the delay in reply did not amount to “mala fide” and was “not deliberate on their part”.
But that raised the question of why then did the PMO transfer the RTI application to the Department of Consumer Affairs in respect of the point pertaining to “permission”. Mathur recorded that “on query from the Commission, the appellant stated that the Department of Consumer affairs informed him that the sought for information is not available with them.”
In his order, while Mathur referred to how a similar question was also asked in another appeal (no. CIC/PMOIN/A/2017/601440 dated August 28, 2017) to which the PMO had given a similar reply and therefore did not find the charge of “mala fide intention” to be sustainable, he still pulled up official for the manner in which the query had been handled and advised caution in dealing with RTI applications.