New Delhi: Taking exception to the “serious lack of knowledge and appreciation” of the Right to Information Act shown by officers dealing with RTI matters at the cabinet secretariat, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has issued an “advisory” that a basic training programme on RTI Act be organised for its officers dealing with such matters.
Cabinet secretariat under direct charge of prime minister
The direction assumes significance since the cabinet secretariat, which is under the direct charge of the prime minister, is responsible for facilitating smooth transaction of business in ministries and departments by ensuring their adherence to the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961 and the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961.
The reprimand from central information commissioner Amitava Bhattacharyya has also come at a time when the Narendra Modi government is facing flak from the opposition and transparency activists for its attempts to dilute RTI Act by bringing in an amendment to undermine the autonomy of the commissions by controlling the salaries and tenure of all information commissioners.
Appellant had filed plea before Cabinet Secretariat
The CIC issued the directions while dealing with an appeal filed by Mohan Chandra Misra, who had in December 2016 sought the action-taken report and the status of his representation made with regard to the modification of the New Pension Scheme and the issue of grant of post retirement medical services to retired Food Corporation of India employees.
Bhattacharyya recorded in his order that during the hearing, the respondent, assistant public information officer of the FCI, submitted that they had never received the RTI application filed in December 2016, but had filed a reply on the basis of first appeal memo. The application had been filed with the cabinet secretariat, which had forwarded it to the FCI.
Director transferred appeal after lapse of three months
On perusal of the case record, the CIC noted that the then under secretary and CPIO of cabinet secretariat had sent a reply to the appellant merely stating that the representation on the basis of which application was filed had been forwarded to the office of the food and public distribution department for action. However, as information was not supplied, the aggrieved appellant had filed the first appeal. The first appellate authority, who was the director of cabinet secretariat, had in his order taken into account the fact that the respondent CPIO had not transferred the RTI application to the department of food and public distribution within the mandatory period of five days from its receipt as prescribed under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act.
But, Bhattacharyya observed that even after taking into account this fact, the first appellate authority by reasoning that does not find any support from any of the provisions of the Act, directed the CPIO concerned to transfer the said RTI application to the department of food and public distribution u/s 6(3) of the RTI Act within five days. He said this meant that when the order of the first appellate authority was issued, a period of three months had already lapsed.
The CIC noted:
“The director, cabinet secretariat should have taken into account the fact that u/s 6(3) of the Act, the application can be transferred only within a period of five days from its receipt. However, the application was transferred after an elapse of a period of three months. Moreover, the power to transfer any application u/s 6(3) of the Act does not lie with the authority. This power can be exercised under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act by only the concerned CPIO/PIO.”
‘Serious lack of knowledge and appreciation of RTI Act’
Bhattacharyya further stated that this incident “shows serious lack of knowledge and appreciation of the Act by officers dealing with RTI matters at the cabinet secretariat.” He therefore said “an advisory is issued u/s 25(5) of the RTI Act to the secretary (coordination), cabinet secretariat for organising basic training programmes for officers (CPIO/PIO and first appellate authority) and staff dealing with RTI at the cabinet secretariat, without any delay.”
The commission also demanded that its views be taken “seriously” and an action-taken report on the implementation of this advisory of the commission be submitted before it within a month. It also directed that a point-wise reply complete in all respects be provided to the appellant by the CPIO.