Postal Department CPIO Unaware of the Rights of Indians Abroad To Seek Information under RTI Act; CIC Condones him
In a strange case of ignorance of the knowledge of the Right to Information (RTI) Act by the central public information officer (CPIO) about Indians abroad having the right to file e-RTI applications, the central information commissioner (CIC) condoned him, stating that he had no malafide intentions but got confused with the postal address located in the US.
This condoning is surprising because Indian citizens abroad and non-resident Indians (NRIs) have had the facility to file RTI applications and payments through the RTI online portal, and they are using it well. In fact, Delhi-based RTI activist commodore (Cmde) Lokesh Batra (retd), who has made RTI online possible for Indian citizens abroad through his sustained campaign, had another victory on 7 August 2023.
Due to a CIC order, the department of personnel & training (DoPT) facilitated the payment of RTI online fees through international credit cards (meaning local credit cards of the country where Indians are residing) as well. Earlier, it was restricted to Indian banks.
Cmde Batra has been continuously filing e-RTIs, but this is the first time he came across a strange hurdle. He had filed an RTI application on 31 October 2022, seeking detailed information related to Aadhaar authentication for the purchase of electronic Indian postal orders (e-IPO). It was as follows:
(i) “Please provide copies of the Act, S.R.O, the Gazette Notification and ‘Statutory Rules and Order’, etc., if any issued by the Government of India with respect to ‘Aadhaar authentication’ for purchase of e-IPO and for any other issue in DOP.
(ii) Please provide Subject, Name and Reference Number(s) of File / Files of DOP, on which the requirement of ‘Aadhaar authentication’ for purchase of e-IPO and for any other issue in DOP - was processed and S.R.O, the Gazette Notification, ‘Statutory Rules and Order’ etc. were issued (if any).
(iii) Provide me copies of Notings in the File/File(s) on which the requirement of ‘Aadhaar authentication’ for purchase of e-IPO and for any other issue in DOP - was processed and S.R.O, the Gazette Notification, ‘Statutory Rules and Order’, etc. were issued. (if any).
(iv) Please timely intimate by email - the total ‘Information Cost” to be paid by me so that it can be paid through RTI Portal. Also note that after the maximum stipulated period of 30 days – Section 7(6) of the RTI Act, 2005 will apply.”
The CPIO strangely replied on 1 November 2022 that he is unable to provide any information or to forward to other concerned CPIO as the RTI Act extends only to the whole of India. Also, he cannot send it to any other public authority to procure the information as it is out of India.
Cmde Batra filed the first appeal on 15 November 2022, alleging that the reply of the CPIO is strange or abnormal and that he has been denied the requested information. He did not get any reply from the first appellate authority (FAA).
Hence, he filed a second appeal to the CIC. At the hearing on 15 May 2024, the FAA submitted the information that Cmde Batra had asked for. He submitted to the CIC that there is no gazette notification or statutory rules regarding Aadhaar authentication for e-IPO purchases. He also stated that the CPIO probably misinterpreted it due to Cmde Batra’s postal address.
CIC Anandi Ramalingam observed that the CPIO had no malafide intentions to deny information. She observed in her order that “The material on record does not weigh in to suggest that the denial of the information by the then CPIO was owing to any malafides as the RTI application mentioned the present address of the appellant to be in US.
“Further, the Commission cannot expect the CPIO to interpret the remarks mentioned in the RTI application about the appellant visiting his family in US, etc. as such information is not required to be provided by the RTI applicant(s) or be interpreted by the CPIO.
“As per Section 6(2) of the RTI Act, ‘An applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him.’ In view of this, the Commission finds no scope of action against the then CPIO, further, upholds the reply of the CPIO providing the adequate clarification.”
CIC Ramalingam has directed the FAA to give an explanation as to why he did not respond to Cmde Batra’s first appeal.
Rues Cmde Batra, “It appears that the CIC is allegedly not familiar with the inclusion of citizenship information when filing requests through the RTI online portal. Just because my address at the time of filing was in the US, the PIO of the postal department rejected my request, and CIC condoned saying he did it in good faith. How can the CPIO be excused for not knowing that non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Indian citizens abroad are eligible to seek information under the RTI Act? By accepting the CPIO's response claiming a lack of information without further investigation, the CIC lacks in ensuring transparency and accountability by the PIO.”
(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".)
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