State Information Commission slapped fines on errant officers

In a significant order, the State Information Commisison has slapped a fine of Rs 9,750 (about USD 200) on two errant public information officers of the Nandurbar district administration (Maharashtra) for having caused enormous delay in satisfactorily responding to an application for information filed by a Sardar Sarovar project affected adivasi Siyaram Singa Padvi. Read more

The original application for information related to details of the road being constructed from Kudavidungar hamlet to Hirapada hamlet in village Danel, Tahsil Akkalkuva, District Nandurbar under the NREGA. The information demanded included details of sanction of the project, inauguration, display board, number of labourers, attendance register, enrolment registers etc.

It is notable that while the original application for information was filed with the Public Information Officer, Public Works Department (Molgi Sub-Division) on 11-05-09, the first reply was furnished on 19-05-09 in a very limited, incomplete ad misleading way. An appeal against this was filed with the departmental appellate authority on 6-07-2009 who gave a direction on 14-07-09 to provide the information, as requested for, by 27-07-09. However, information was not provided and the second appeal was filed with the State Information Commisison on 22-08-09. Though some information was provided on 5-09-09, it was again incomplete, false and misleading and it was stated that the muster rolls would not be given since the same is available on the website.

How could the PIO assume that the applicant who is not computer-literate have access to the internet?

When appeal came up for hearing before the Commisison on 08-12-09 in the presence of the Chief Information Commissioner (Maharashtra), Shri Suresh V Joshi, the applicant and the respondent PIOs, the delay and illegality was presented before the Commissioner on behalf of the applicant by NBA activist-advocate Yogini Khanolkar. Upon hearing the parties, the Commission recorded a delay of 39 days on behalf of the APIO and PIO in providing information and imposed a fine of Rs. 9,750 fine on them; at the rate of Rs 250/- per day. Each has to thus shell out Rs. 4895/- from their pocket. The order dated 24-12-09 directs that the amounts are to be recovered from the salary of the concerned officers i.e. the Senior clerk and Department sub-engineer and Assistant PIO of the Public Works Department (Molgi Division) for the month of January 2010 and the execution report is to be submitted to the Information Commission by 15-02-2010.

NBA welcomes this order which assumes significance in a district like Nandurbar where corruption in public works has become rampant. This particular project is also known to involve massive corruption and the above punishment in this context speaks a lot. We, however, also feel that the Information Commissioner could have invoked his full powers under the Act and his order could also have directed appropriate compensation, as provided for under the same Act, to the adivasi BPL applicant, Siyaram Padvi for the physical and mental hardship that has been caused to him.

Further, if one were to calculate the cumulative delay over many months, since May and considering that even until now wholly satisfactory information has not been furnished, the fine of Rs. 9,750/- would be inadequate, while it could have been anywhere upto Rs. 25000. The order should also have recommended disciplinary action against the erring officials, so that PIOs do not disregard and delay people’s applications, henceforth. In the light of this, the applicant feels the need to pursue further options at the appropriate legal fora for full justice and implementation of the true letter and spirit of the Act.

Geetanjali Chauhan, Vijay Valivi, Medha Patkar