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Don’t abuse RTI to harass colleagues

Don’t abuse RTI to harass colleagues
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An employee has no right to misuse the Right to Information (RTI) Act to harass colleagues. If he persistently abuses the RTI for this purpose, it...

An employee has no right to misuse the Right to Information (RTI) Act to harass colleagues. If he persistently abuses the RTI for this purpose, it will obstruct routine functioning of public authority and will thus be considered as misconduct inviting disciplinary action. A case of blatant misuse of RTI, social media and grievance redressal mechanism came up before the CIC.

Do serving/retired employees have any right to behave in such a manner to harass his colleagues and employer? The Information Commission opines that such a conduct deserves to be considered as misconduct.

There should be a system within the Public Authority to tackle such misconduct of any serving employee/retired employee or by any other staff member/out-sourced or similar nature, because they are becoming potential hazards of RTI misuse.

The SC was also of the view that misuse of the RTI Act has to be appropriately dealt with otherwise the public would lose faith and confidence in this "sunshine Act"

Mr S, an employee of Ambedkar Polytechnic College in Delhi, after making several petitions before all kinds of fora available, filed an RTI application for ‘action taken report on his complaint’ in 2015. Among several points, he also wanted the copies of integrity certificate of committee members inquiring into the complaint by his colleague Ms. T.

His questions are found to be harassing T, Principal Ms A and others. His demand for information includes copies of medical and TA bills of others, without any reason.

Officers were scared of this person because of his numerous complaints, grievance like representations, RTI applications resulting in almost chocking the administration. Out of that fear, they either gave information that could not have been given or transferred
the demands to other authorities unnecessarily.

As many as five employees represented against the menace of RTI posed by Mr. S. A teacher Ms T, third party, said that the appellant nourished a grudge against the employer for his promotion and targeted colleagues, and started harassing by putting video-recording of her class on social media under the title ‘Jhola Chap’ teacher (mentioning Teaching Corruption in Ambedkar Polytechnic, Sting Operation : “Jhola Chap” teachers in Delhi Polytechnic).

The print-out copy submitted by Ms T shows that it was shared by the appellant on April 15 at 10:57 pm. The appellant admitted to video recording the class. This caused a lot of embarrassment to her from friends, relatives, colleagues and family members as the video was widely circulated by WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media.

She complained to Delhi Commission for Women, which dismissed it saying that the Principal should have given a memo. She was upset with invasion of her privacy and reputation by wide circulation of abusive comments with video giving an impression there was some scandal.

Apprehensions of Ms T are confirmed by another complaint filed by Principal Dr A dated 29.03.2016, which says: “..... the applicant has sought information by name Dr A regarding the details of medical bills claimed by the undersigned. I would like to submit that though I have furnished the information and supplied the relevant records to Shri S, at the same time; it puts me into a mental torture or mental trauma, as he may misutilise the information on social media, you tube, face book etc., as in the past after receiving the information through RTI, he had distorted, fabricated and published the same on Total TV, You Tube, Facebook etc....”

The officers also submitted a PGMS (public grievance monitoring system) generated report which shows that within four months he filed 36 complaints against his colleagues and public authority, most are not grievances at all.

There is no reason to suspect the representation of colleagues that Mr S does not require any information; because his whole purpose is to harass, and that amounts to defamation and invasion of privacy which constitute offences under Indian Penal Code, 1860 & Information Technology Act, 2000. The Commission is surprised by the inaction of the college authorities and staff, which is facilitating the appellant to continue harassment.

The Supreme Court in ICAI vs. Shaunak H. Satya, (2011) 8 SCC 781 has held: “This Court is also of the view that misuse of the RTI Act has to be appropriately dealt with otherwise the public would lose faith and confidence in this "sunshine Act". A beneficent Statute, when made a tool for mischief and abuse must be checked in accordance with law.”

In H K Bansal v Department of Telegraph, New Delhi, CIC/BS/A/2014/002319-SA, this Commission concluded: Whether serving/retired employees are having any right to behave in such a manner to torture his colleagues and employer? The Commission opines that such a conduct deserves to be considered as misconduct.

There should be a system within the Public Authority to tackle such misconduct of any serving employee/retired employee or by any other staff member/out-sourced or similar nature, because they are becoming potential hazards of RTI misuse. Public authority should have evolved a mechanism and service rules or include in conduct rules,

to initiate departmental action against existing/retired employees for such misbehavior or misconduct and impose penalty in the nature of cutting increments or pension emoluments for serving or retiring employees accordingly.

If the RTI application from its own employee reflects a grievance or compliant, the public authority should address grievance immediately and inform him within one month.

If the RTI application is repeated, frivolous or useless one and only meant for harassing other employees or public authority as a whole, then the disciplinary action should be initiated for such alleged misconduct, leading to appropriate action.

If they do not act at all against such characters (retired or not retired employees) in indulging in such misconduct of filing frivolous and entertain these repeated RTI applications it will cause huge wasting of public money.

The public authority is answerable to public why they are facilitating the misconduct causing damage to public exchequer. Each department has to address the issue of misusing RTI by employee, after thoroughly examining each individual case separately.

Targeting the witnesses, complainants, superior officers who were members of inquiry committee or DPC who did not favour them and seeking whole lot of information about them under RTI Act is irresponsible misuse of the right.

It will not only interfere with the independent inter-departmental decision making process, but also instill fear in inquiry officers and dissuade others from lodging complaints against wrongdoers.

This increases the already existing space for wrongdoing ultimately affecting the governance. The RTI is not meant for granting such immunity or impunity to wrongdoing employees to misuse RTI to demoralize the complainants and inquiry officers.

Appellant is demanding the information about some employees/officers who gave assistance in confidence for law enforcement, which can be denied under this exception under Section 8(1).

(h) information, which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;Such a misuse by employee will amount to misconduct and, CIC acting under Section 19(8)(a) of RTI Act, directed the public authority to take steps to address this misuse of RTI by its own employees.

If the misusers of RTI involved in invading privacy by video recording and spreading false allegations through social media network, the head of the institute need to examine if it amounts to any offence under IPC or IT Act, and shall report to appropriate authorities including police.

The public authority should inform the individual officers, if their rights are breached by misuse, they have a every right to complain as per law and public authority shall facilitate such action.

The authorities have to take immediate action if the information given to appellant is abused or spread in social media or elsewhere, and they shall not give any information to repeated requests. Victims have a right to seek compensation from public authorities for ignoring or neglecting privacy rights.

It is pathetic to note that the PIO could not ascertain that there was no public interest in this case but appellant has malicious interests in harassing others or building pressure on authorities in self interest.

The authorities have a duty to protect other employees from such misusers. The Commission held appellant as misuser of social media, RTI and warn him to stop it. (Based on decision in CIC/SA/A/2015/002028 on 29.3.2016)

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