In an apparent violation of the Right to Information Act, the Public Information Officer at the Prime Minister's Office has refused to provide information to an applicant, saying he failed to show how it was "useful" to him "either personally, socially or nationally".
The reply from the Central Public Information Officer to activist Commodore (retired) Lokesh Batra came even after clear directions of his superiors, the First Appellate Authority, to disclose the information sought by him.
Among other pieces of information, Batra had sought to know from the PMO the details of files and records which have been digitised and computerised by it as mandated in the Section 4(1) (a) of the Right to Information Act.
Rather than complying with directives of senior officer, CPIO S E Rizvi refused to disclose the information, saying the query would fall in the category of one "where the applicant has not specified how the information is useful to him either personally, socially or nationally."
Under the Right to Information Act, a RTI applicant is not required to give any reasons while seeking information. As per the Act, information can only be denied if it comes under exemption clauses of the transparency law.
Section 4(1) (a) of the Right to Information Act says, “Every public authority shall maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act. They have to also ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated”.
Former chief information commissioner A N Tiwari, while replying to a query on the issue, said the CPIO cannot ask how the information would be useful to the RTI applicant and if the applicant approaches the Central Information Commission, the Commission can initiate penalty proceedings against him.
Section 4(1)(a) also gave every the public authority 120 days from the enactment of the RTI Act to put in public domain, "a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control."
After the first reply from Rizvi, in which he refused to disclose information saying collation of information would "disproportionately divert" the resources of the office, Batra approached Director in PMO Krishan Kumar.
In his appeal, Batra quoted from the speech of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where he had said, "They (public authorities) must endeavour to voluntarily put information in public without waiting for applications from information seekers. The RTI Act itself mandates such disclosures and record management."
After going through the contents of appeal and information sought by Batra, Kumar overruled the CPIO and directed him to ascertain the steps taken by PMO for the compliance of section 4(1)(a) -- related to computerisation and digitisation of records --and apprise Batra within 15 days.
Even after clear directives for disclosure of information sought by Batra, Rizvi chose to deny the information again citing orders of the CIC which does not seem relevant.
Under the RTI Act, if an applicant approaches the CPIO for seeking information and if he is unsatisfied, he can make a first appeal before a designated senior officer of the public authority. The decision has to be followed by the CPIO.
"Prima facie, this case seems to be of denial of information, even after orders from the First Appellate Authority. In such cases, if the applicant approaches the Central Information Commission with a complaint under section 18 of the RTI, the Commission can initiate penalty proceedings against the CPIO," Tiwari said.