Despite the fact that Right to Information (RTI) applicant Dharmpal was a regular visitor to the Punjab National Bank's (PNB’s) Haridwar branch, he was not given full information regarding his father’s bank account details and fixed deposits, which he had asked for under RTI, after his father’s demise in December 2020.
Suresh Chandra, central information commissioner (CIC) has ordered that “The appellant is not a stranger to the aforesaid account as he was one of the legal heirs of his deceased father. Therefore, he had right to procure information related to his deceased father’s account.”
In fact, allegedly, the central public information officer (CPIO), as well as the first appeal authority (FAA) of PNB, did not receive the RTI application or the first appeal application, respectively. That’s the excuse they gave the CIC when they received the notice for the second hearing. Then, they quickly gathered some information together but that too was partial information and was sent nearly two years later, on 23 February 2023, to be precise.
Mr Dharmpal, the RTI applicant, had filed two second appeals against the CPIO, PNB, Haridwar, with respect to two RTI applications. He addressed one to the Kankhal branch, Haridwar and another to the Upar Road branch, Haridwar, seeking identical information. Both the appeals were clubbed together for hearing and disposal, in the last week of February 2023.
It is important to note the time span between his RTI application and the second appeal hearing, which time and again proves that the information which is required immediately simply languishes. The second appeal hearing came up on 23 February 2023, while his RTI application dates back to 29 December 2020 and the first appeal to 24 February 2020. He filed a second appeal on 24 May 2021; the hearing for which came up nearly two years later on 23 February 2023. Isn’t it a rude joke on citizens?
In his second appeal, Mr Dharmpal requested the commission to direct the CPIO to provide the complete information and take the necessary action as per Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act.
CIC Mr Chandra observes, “On perusal of the records submitted by the appellant while filing the second appeal, it is revealed that neither the CPIO nor the FAA provided any information or any reply to the appellant. Subsequently, it was revealed that the respondent had replied to the appellant on 23rd February 2023 (nearly two years later).
“Dharmpal remained absent at the second appeal hearing and on behalf of the respondent Rajat Katin, Dy. Manager, Punjab National Bank, Haridwar attended the hearing through video/audio conference. He defended the CPIO stating that the RTI and First Appeal applications were not received by them, hence, information could not be provided to the appellant within the stipulated time. However, they stated that after receipt of second hearing notice, RTI application was obtained from the Commission and provided point-wise reply by a letter dated February 23rd 2023.” However, the information was not complete.
CIC Mr Chandra observed that “the appellant while enclosing a copy of the death certificate of his father (Late Shri Dharmpal), sought information regarding account/FD of his deceased father. Perusal of the reply dated 23rd February 2023, revealed that the respondent had not provided the nominee details and name of the joint account holder in respect of his deceased father’s account.”
“In view of the above, the respondent is directed to revisit the RTI application and provide revised point-wise information including nominee details and name of the joint account holder in respect of his deceased father’s account, within three weeks from the date of receipt of this order.”
Indeed, it is becoming a torment for RTI applicants due to the casual attitude of PIOs, FAAs and the long-drawn pendency at the central information commission.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.