Bureaucracy is stumbling block on road to accountable governance: Kerala SIC rejects use of IPOs to pay RTI fees

rtiBy Venkatesh Nayak*

The Supreme Court  in a landmark judgement about transparency in the banking sector announced  on December 16, expressed its concerns about the manner in which many Public Information Officers reject people’s requests for information under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). Some Information Commissions are only adding their weight to the problems that are increasingly preventing the effective implementation of the Act, instead of resolving them. The latest instance of this trend is from Kerala.

In January 2015, Ms. Shikha Chhibbar, Project Officer, Access to Justice Programme, CHRI, submitted an RTI application to the Home Department, Government of Kerala seeking information about action taken to comply with the Supreme Court’s directives in the matter of State of Gujarat vs Kishanbhal [(2014) 5 SCC 108] delivered in in January 2014. She paid the RTI application fee of Rs. 10 using an Indian Postal Order (IPO).

The Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Home Department promptly returned the RTI application stating that IPO was not a recognised mode of payment under the State Government’s RTI Rules and demanded fee payment in cash or through Bank draft or court fee stamp. As fee payment in cash was not possible due to the distance between Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram and court fee stamps bought in Delhi would not be acceptable in Kerala, Ms. Chhibbar sent a Bank draft spending more than triple the amount on bank charges and postage.

Simultaneously, she filed a complaint with the Kerala State Information Commission (SIC) arguing that IPOs were not prohibited by the RTI Rules as a mode of fee payment and that the value of the IPO could be readily realised by the PIO upon presenting it to the concerned post office for redemption. This complaint case filed in January was decided by the Kerala SIC on 2nd December.

The SIC has dismissed the complaint holding that IPOs are not a valid mode of payment under the RTI Rules and that the PIO’s action of rejecting the RTI application was not improper or illegal. Despite the Complainant pointing out that Section 7(1) of the RTI Act permitted a PIO to rejection of an RTI application only by invoking the exemptions specified in Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act and no other reason would be valid or legitimate, the SIC chose to ignore that plea. Nor did the SIC bother to make a recommendation to the State Government to consider amending the RTI Rules to include IPOs as a valid mode of payment.

The Central Government and several State Governments accept IPOs for fee payment. Members of the RTI fraternity in Kerala have pointed out the deteriorating situation vis-a-vis the implementation of the RTI Act in Kerala thanks to an SIC which is not only orthodox in its approach to transparency but also has several vacant posts of Information Commissioners. The recent order of the Kerala SIC only strengthens this collective impression. The Home Department has sent some documents as evidence of action taken to implement the Apex Court’s directives.

Background of the RTI intervention – ascertaining compliance with a set of directives of the Supreme Court

The Kishanbhai case was about the acquittal of the Respondent in a case of rape-cum-murder of a six year old girl child in 2003 in Gujarat, for want of convincing evidence. The judges of the Apex Court expressed their anguish at having to set aside the conviction because the prosecution had not been able to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, despite their conscience being troubled by the barbarity of the crime. In order to make shoddy investigators and incompetent prosecutors accountable for acquittals of such kind in criminal cases, the Apex Court laid down a mechanism for reviewing such cases to ascertain the reasons for the lapses, fixing responsibility and launching disciplinary action against errant officers, documenting such cases for use in enhanced training programmes for investigators and prosecutors. A series of directions to this effect are given at the end of the text of the judgement.

Several experts of human rights law and criminal law have been critical of the “conviction oriented-ness” of this judgement. However neither the State of Gujarat, nor any of the other Government or any human rights/criminal law expert or advocacy organisation has sought a review of the directions of the Apex Court in this case. So under Articles 141 and 144 of the Constitution these directions have attained the status of law that all jurisdictions must comply with. In January this year, we decided to ascertain the steps taken by States and Union Territories to comply with these directions. It was in this context that Ms. Chhibbar filed her RTI application with the Home Department of Kerala.

In several States leading RTI activists and campaigners agreed to partner with us and seek information from their Governments about the action taken to comply with the Apex Court’s directives inKishanbhai. Armed with the circular issued by the Union Home Ministry (MHA) drawing the attention of the Governments of all States and UTs, they filed RTIs in 27 States and 3 UTs to ascertain compliance.

RTI interventions woke up the Governments of Maharashtra, J&K and Manipur to the Apex Court’s directives

Maharashtra SIC was the first to take up this matter. Mr. Bhaskar Prabhu of Mahiti Adhikar Manch and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)  filed 3 RTI applications (thanks to the 150 word limit) with the State’s Home Department seeking details of action taken on the Apex Court’s directives. The Government did not bother to respond. The matters escalated to the SIC in less than 4 months – remarkable speed as compared to other Information Commissions which receive a large number of appeals and complaints that remain pending for several months or even years on end. The State Government initially denied knowledge of the MHA circular.

When Mr. Prabhu submitted a copy of the same to the SIC, it became apparent that the State Government had slept over it for more than a year. The SIC took a grave view of the lackadaisical manner in which the Government had dealt with the Apex Court’s directives. The SIC directed the Chief Secretary to inquire into the lack of response to the RTI applications on such an important matter as compliance of the Apex Court’s directives and recommended launch of disciplinary action against the officers found delinquent as a result of the inquiry. This order was issued in May, 2015. Not having received any communication from the Government about action taken on the SIC’s order, Mr. Prabhu has once again sought details of compliance with the SIC’s order under the RTI Act.

The SIC of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K SIC) was the next authority to take note of similar non-compliance on a complaint filed by RTI activist and journalist Mr. Raman Sharma. Upon not receiving any reply from the State Home Department to his RTI application regarding compliance with the Apex Court[‘s directives in Kishanbhai, he filed a complaint with the J&K SIC. The Home Department pleaded that it had not received Mr. Sharma’s RTI application at all. However evidence of submission of the RTI application was provided during the hearing to prove otherwise.

The submissions of the J&K Police who attended the hearings revealed that although they had issued some instructions after receiving the MHA’s circular the committee that was required to be constituted to inquire into lapses of the investigating and prosecuting authorities as directed by the Apex Court had not been set up until the J&K SIC took notice of the RTI complaint. The J&K SIC recommended that the State Government implement the directives of the Apex Court in letter and spirit. It also issued a penalty show cause notice to the PIO of the J&K Home Department.

The Manipur SIC has also taken note of this matter. Mr. Joykumar Wahengbam, Executive Director, Human Rights Initiative and a Co-Convenor of NCPRI filed an RTI with the State’s Home Department about action taken on the Apex Court’s directives inKishanbhai. The PIO rejected the RTI application pointing to a circular issued by the State Government 10 years ago exempting the entire Home Department under Section 24 of the RTI Act. When the matter escalated to the Manipur SIC, in November this year, the SIC rejected the Home Department’s plea holding that implementing the Apex Court’s directives is related to allegations of violation of human rights and therefore the PIO should disclose all information to the applicant free of charge within 45 days. Mr. Wahengbam is still waiting for the information.

In many other States this matter has escalated to the concerned SICs while in a few others some documents relating to compliance with the Apex Court’s directives in Kishanbhai have been supplied. While RTI is proving to be a very useful tool in demanding transparency about lack of action in public authorities on key issues, the somnolence or impunity, as the case may be, of the bureaucracy is proving to be a stumbling block on the road to accountable governance.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

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2 thoughts on “Bureaucracy is stumbling block on road to accountable governance: Kerala SIC rejects use of IPOs to pay RTI fees

  1. Now all is changed. Mr.Narendra Modiji mow become BJP / NDA Prime Minister of India from 26.05.2014. No one have a tongue to tell the truth of Gujarat from 07.10.2001. No one want to die unnatural death by the people’s those are concerned to give RTI Act 2005 replies. I am on the threat to be killed / murdered from 2006 in Gujarat state of Mr.Narendra Modiji. ======So I left after seeing the fate of RTI Act 2005 applicant how several RTI Act 2005 Activists suffered / murdered in Gujarat.
    If in 2002 Gujarat riots started from 2 PM on 27.02.2002 from Vadodara Railway station by the sentimental Hindi Mobs that 59 Karsewaks were burnt alive in Godhra.
    People’s saying that the 2002 Gujarat riots were Pogrom / State Sponsored. I am till to day not agree that Mr. Narendra Modiji who become CM of Gujarat on 07.10.2001 gave orders to allow Hindus for three days to kill Muslims.
    When at 2 PM Mr. Modiji was not present on 27.2.2002 in Vadodara, how he gave such orders to police not to take action against Hindus those will be caught in killing the Muslim. Now the story become very old from 2002 till date.

    Read=== Tehelka investigation ====== Read my letter as below : –
    Dr.R.K.D.Goel : President : Forum of Whistle- Blowers of India.
    ———————————————————————————
    If Mr. Narendra Modiji would have done sting of his own Saffron Parivar from 07.10.2001 of Ahmadabad and Vadodara those are only his enemy number one; today we would not have faced the Muslim Jihadists those become terrorists against India from 2002 of Gujarat riots started from Vadodara on 27.02.2002 and repetition of Vadodara riots against Muslims from 01.05.2006 after demolition of Chisti Dargah by a very corrupt BJP Mayor of Vadodara Mr. Sunil Solanki from 2006 to 2008.See reactions of Vadodara riots against Muslims from 2006; Bomb Blasts in entire India by SIMI / Indian Mujahideens.===== See below a photo of Bomb Blast on 11.07.2006 in Suburb train targeting rich Gujarati’s. It was a reaction of Vadodara repetition of riots on 01.05.2006 against Muslims of Vadodara in which six people’s died; 4 were Muslims and 2 were Hindus in the ratio of 2:1. No action till date up to 2016 taken against Mr. Sunil Solanki who was / is spreading hatred between Muslims and Hindus from 2006 which is spread now in whole India from 2006. Three years from 2006 to 2008 will be worst years in the history of Gujarat due to which Muslim Jihadist terrorism developed against Hindus of India.

    Bomb Blast on 11.07.2006 in Mumbai Suburb train.

    Like • Reply • 17 hrs
    Dated 15.12.2016 Copy of this my face book for Information’s and necessary action please to: – ——————
    Dr.R.K.D.Goel. 1414-A. GHB Akashdeep Soc, Makarpura Road, B/H AKashwani, Vadodara 390009 Ph: 0265- 2647677 Mobile: 94273 41041: E-maill ID: drrkdgoel@hotmail.com, rkdgoel@aol.com
    NOTE : Read : – P.T.O. Also: Tehelka report dated November 3, 2007 about theTruth,Tehelka. Conspirators & Rioters; Vadodara: Chared City. GUJARAT 2002 -THE TRUTH FULL COVERAGE. ASHISH KHETAN. Every Muslim locality was attacked in phases spread over two months. At Best Bakery, 14 peoples were burnt alive.
    ===============================================
    Now first save India from Fanatic Muslim Jihadist those attacking India from 2002 of Gujarat riots. and become Muslim terrorists against India due to Saffron Parivar of Vadodara of Mr. Narendra Modiji from 07.10.2001.
    ==========No one have a tongue to speak the truth of Gujarat from 07.10.2001. All Indian are paying the cost now of Vadodara riots from 27.02.2002 against Muslims.==== Any time War may be there between Pakistan and India. Which may be a Nuclear war?

  2. Read my experiences with Gujarat Government PIOs /AAS and PA of Vadodara Municipal Corporations Vadodara. Peoples are dying like dogs and cats.but no rreply from VMC Vadodara for my applicationd despite letter to CM Gujarat. ==Read===
    15 Feb 2007, 2019 hrs IST , INDIATIMES NEWS NETWORK
    People must point out my mistakes: Modi

    NEW DELHI: Is Hindutva icon Narendra Modi sounding increasingly circumspect and politically correct as elections in Gujarat approach? Has he stopped talking about minority appeasement, for instance? No, says the man himself “My language is what it was.”————- “since childhood I’ve been a swayamsevak and have prayed for my nation’s glory. And I will do all I can to see Gujarat contributes to that national glory.”
    So where is the famed arrogance? There is no arrogance, says Modi, even getting philosophical. Asked what his deepest regret is, he says “Sadness and joy are a part of life. I have no complaints, no expectations nor a personal agenda.”

    FORUM OF WHISTLE – BL OWERS OF INDIA
    Association of Fearless, Courageous, Intelligent, Honest, Citizens with Vision, Credibility & Integrity.
    Fighting against corruption in India is like committing suicide. — We are one of them. — Join Us
    Patron: Mr.D.R.Patel President: Dr.R.K.D.Goel Secretary: Mr.S.N.Raha Convenor: Mr.R.M.Jingar
    1414-A, Akashdeep Soc., b/h Akaswani, Makarpura Rd. Vadodara -390 009 Ph: 2647677 E-mail: rkdgoel@aol.com

    Reference Modi’s Mistakes Date: 15.11.2007

    MISTAKES OF Mr. NARENDRA MODI: Hon. CHIEF MINISTER OF GUJARAT
    To: –
    Sri Narendra Modi,
    Hon. Chief Minister of Gujarat.
    Hon. Sirs,

    1. Your 1st biggest mistake “You don’t like RTI Act 05 to be implemented in the Gujarat State “
    The Gujarat IAS, GAS Bureaucrats are too much reluctant to implement RTI Act 2005 in the State of Gujarat. Till date the GAD has not cancelled the Circular VHS dated 14.11.2005 not to give ‘file notings’ to an applicant of RTI Act 05. (Refer my E-mail dated 13.10.2007 and 15.10.2007)

    Your IAS, GAS Bureaucrats seems afraid in allowing the ‘file notings’ despite the orders of CIC / all other States CICs as well as Gujarat State Chief Information Commissioner’s orders dated 25.10.2006, in case of Mr. P.V.Bhatt VS UD & UH deptt

    The GAD Circular dated 14.11.2005 of RTI Cell is issued in the Name of Governor of Gujarat. It means this circular is approved by you. Now this circular is pending from 25.10.2006 with the Committee of Secretaries, Govt. of Gujarat decision’s to be cancelled or not. Till date this circular is not cancelled which might be pending for your approval.

    IT SHOWS YOU ARE NOT INTERESTED TO HAVE TRANSPARENCY IN GUJARAT GOVT. WORKING AND the IAS, GAS OFFICERS SHOULD HIDE THE GOVT’s.WRONG orders / decisions.

    THIS IS YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE NOT TO ALLOW RTI Act 2005 TO BE IMPLEMENTED IN GUJARAT OF ITS OBJECTIVES to “MINIMISING CORRUPTIONS and BRINGING ANSWERABILITY; RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY OF Officer’s in their working”

    Please make Gujarat State Bureaucrats dealing transparent.

    2. Your 2nd mistake “You have not appointed LOKAYUKTA to deal with the corruption cases against the Politician. “ In the absence of Lokayukta the public can’t lodge the complaints of corruption cases against the Ministers, MLAs, and Corporators etc for investigations as is the case in other states. (The BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh have Lokayukta who is doing good work).

    My almost 20 applications from October 2005 are pending with the Public authority “VMSS Vadodara” who has not giving me ‘file notings’ and referred my case on 29.5.2007 to GAD of circular dated 14.11.2005 not to give ‘file notings’. Refer my e-mail sent on Sat, 13 Oct 2007 12:23 am. Post copy of my mail dispatched to all. (Hon.GSCIC kept Judgments of my 2nd appeals pending)

    The VMSS Vadodara officers knows well that if they will give me ‘file notings’ their rampant corruption and wrong doings from last 15 years will be exposed.

    Dr.R.K.D.Goel.
    Till Date I am not getting replies of my RTI Act 05 applications from Public Authority Mun. Comm.of VMSS Vadodara despite that the GAD changed their Orders dated 14.11.2006 of File noting Now to be given to an RTI Act 2005 applicants file noting from 2008 BUT all in Vain in Gujarat till date.. My 20 applications are not replied by the Pblic Authority of VMSS Vadodara from December 2005 to date. Rather getting threatsto be killed. This Mr. Modiji Gujarat State,

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