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Eating minds, wasting time

Eating minds, wasting time
Highlights

Instead of answering in two words, two Government departments developed dozens of files to deny the ‘information’ under the RTI Act.

Instead of answering in two words, two Government departments developed dozens of files to deny the ‘information’ under the RTI Act. Anjana Gupta wanted to know through the RTI “What is the period of limitation to file an appeal against the order of acquittal passed by Metropolitan Magistrate in the Court of Session”. Interestingly answer to this question is just two words ‘30 days’. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs in a letter in January, 2013, stated that the Ministry only dealt with the legislative aspect of CrPC and IPC and that the information pertaining to the Limitation Act was not available with them and that had to be obtained from Ministry of Law and Justice. On first appeal, the authority ordered, “It may be pointed out that legal opinion or legal advice is not ‘information’ within the meaning of the RTI Act, and such opinion or advice is not given under the provisions of the RTI Act. However, any central Act like the CrPc or Limitation Act is available in public domain and also in the website”. The period of limitation for filing appeal as per Section 114(b) of the Limitation Act, 1963 is – “Appeal from an order of acquittal under sub-section (3) of Section 417 of the CrPC, 30 days from the date of grant of special leave”.

He should have either approached an advocate or browsed the internet to the relevant law i.e. the Limitation Act to get the answer. Several office Memos, file notings, etc were generated explaining how the information sought cannot be given. The Appellant also pursued the matter through First and Second appeal.

The mute question is why any one of the responsible officers who deal with such law in their day to day affairs have not dialed and told the appellant that it is “30 days”.

In another case it is noticed that the PIO wanted the appellant to pay Rs. 2 to provide a single page document as copying charge. For that he has spent more than Rs 20 by writing a letter and sending it by speed post. This is how both the citizens and officers are making mockery of the RTI Act. The RTI Act is a tool through which an information mechanism of disseminating information is expected to be created. It is a paradox that some of the PIOs and applicants made it a ‘lifeless’ formal exercise with a rigid and meaningless interpretation refusing to provide information and instead developing huge files just to complete all the formalities leading to wastage of public money. The Commission feels sad about this kind of deplorable attitude and advises them to desist from this kind of futile actions.

Wasting time to clear doubts
An advocate holding Ph D degree doubted whether he can use “Dr” before the name and filed an RTI Application for that. The Right to information does not mean right to clarification for doubts.

Advocate appellant Loganathan from Tamil Nadu filed an RTI application, saying, “It says that I have been permitted to prefix “Dr” before my name except in enrollment certificate as per BCI rules and I want to know whether the public authority was confirming the same.” The CPIO, Bar Council, stated that according Rule 23(a) of Part-IX, the name of the advocates shall be entered in the rolls without suffixes, prefixes, titles or degrees. On this silly doubt the Ph D holding advocate travelled two stages - CPIO, through First Appeal to reach the Central Information Commission.

As the Bar Council of India is a statutory body and entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the dignity of the profession, the law and rules prescribe certain norms for the members of the law profession to follow. It is assumed that profession of lawyer is either on par with or above the other professions.

At the same time, the appellant has a genuine question as to why he should not use title/prefix – Dr (Doctor), which indicated that he acquired Ph D. The PIO has simply cited the rule and did not go into further details regarding propriety of using such prefixes. In the video conferencing from Chennai, the appellant claimed that the prefix “Dr” is not a title and but was acquired degree. It also does not cause any dent to the degree of profession of an advocate. Nowhere in the Rules of Bar Council of India, was the usage of titles like Dr or degrees like LLB, MA, Ph D considered as misconduct. Hence the Commission observes it is a matter of accomplishment for a person who is genuinely awarded a degree of Ph D to mention ‘Dr’ prior to his name. Without going into the unnecessary debate, increasing or decreasing the dignity, one can say that if anybody uses such pre-fix, without having acquired degree, the purpose needs to be doubted.


Otherwise, the Commission found nothing wrong in using such prefix. However, such clarifications cannot be sought under the RTI as that will not fall within purview of section 2(f) of the RTI Act.

Ambiguous replies
Most of the Information Officers are callous in their replies and compel the people to go to first appeals, who in turn force them to go further in search of remedy to their information request. The CIC has to take a serious view of such callous handling of the RTI applications and also the First appeals by the department of Legal Affairs. Arun Kumar Dubey from Varanasi sought information about appointment of Special Public Prosecutor in the Central Board of Excise and Customs. CPIO directed him to the Administrative Ministry. First appellate authority confirmed it. The CPIO has used a specific expression ‘administrative ministry’ which is not commonly known to the people who are not Government employees. It means the administrative wing concerned of the Ministry. The RTI request, CPIO’s reply and order by First Appellate authority are equally ambiguous and difficult to implement.

As usual the CPIO sends a section officer to Commission. He promptly claims ignorance or says he joined just a few months ago. Their bureaucratic approach and ego will not allow them to contact the citizen by phone or letter to clarify what exactly he needed. The RTI Act mandates the PIO to guide and help the citizen in seeking information.

The PIO is expected to transfer the RTI application to another Public Authority within 5 days with an intimation to the applicant under the Proviso to Section 6(3) of the RTI Act, which is generally violated by the PIO.

By: Madabhushi Sridhar

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