RTI protects honest officers from govt

RTI protects honest officers from govt

There is a general impression among employees and officers that the Right to Information RTI is a nuisance The entire bureaucracy is benefitted by RTI...

There is a general impression among employees and officers that the Right to Information (RTI) is a nuisance. The entire bureaucracy is benefitted by RTI and they should be indebted to it as each has now got a right to know their annual confidential report (ACR) which was kept secret from adversely affected, and their promotion chances are reduced or removed.

Right to have the copy of their annual confidential reports and to seek review of negative remarks emerged out of the RTI has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. The RTI brought major relief to employees.

An officer of integrity, who got ‘excellent’ in nine years of ACR, was given ‘zero’ in the tenth year by the Union Minister for Health, and after he went back from deputation, he scored again ‘excellent’ for another four years. He challenged this vindictive evaluation. He got the copy of ACR as it is now disclosable and he could exercise his right to review the negative evaluation. Those in power are not tolerant about actions of this honest officer, which embarrass their colleagues, hence they try to harass such officers and intimidate with legal cases to silence him.

They do not hesitate to misrepresent the facts and somehow see that the officer is harassed. The CAT also gave an order in favour of government, which was admonished by the Supreme Court as given in excess of CAT’s power. Its order was struck down by the Supreme Court and costs of Rs 25,000 was imposed on 1st February 2019, in addition to 25k costs imposed by the Uttarakhand High Court. SC ordered not to consider this ‘zero’. (See AIIMS v Mr S.C., SC in civil appeal number 1392 of 2019 SLP 27490 of 2018 dated 1.2.2019)

Officers can get complete material about the false charges that were foisted against them in retaliation to their honest work under the RTI. One IFS officer was honest to the core and courageous in discharging his duties. He found serious charges against his colleagues and superiors including Ministers, and registered cases as part of his duty. All those corrupt ganged up and foisted false cases against him in retaliation. The entire political ruling class was against him, along with corrupt babus who are in majority with proven loyalty to their bosses.

The RTI comes to the aid of this officer. Luckily, one Union Minister in previous regime saw the truth in contentions of the officer and directed the IB to inquire and file a report. The IB fortunately conducted an objective probe and filed a report to say that the charges levelled by officer were truthful and cases foisted against him were totally false and done in retaliation. Meanwhile the government changed at the Centre. Everybody thought good days had come for honest officers and bad days for the corrupt. But though the government was changed, its attitude did not.

The officer was shunted from one department to the other and forced to be on leave. He was neither promoted nor given the annual increment. All his representations were blocked with blind and deaf government. He found a shield and sword in the RTI. Sought for a copy of the report given by the IB from his employing Ministry. The PIO refused, and First Appellate Authority simply endorsed the refusal. He reached CIC in second appeal. The IB pleaded that it was exempted, and information furnished by the IB need not be disclosed under Section 24 of the RTI Act.

The CIC asked them to read proviso to Section 24, which says if the information request relates to corruption or human rights violation, that must be given even by the exempted organisations. The Information Commission has the authority to deal with petitions for permission to disclose the information under proviso to Section 24.

The proviso to this Section provided that if the commission finds the information sought relates to corruption or violation of human rights, such information needs to be disclosed. The commission also found that information sought in this case is straight away connected to matter of corruption in high places and thus should be disclosed.

The non-disclosure will make the officer to continue with malicious cases foisted by the corrupt officers whom he wanted to prosecute. Disclosure will help in closure of those false cases and help him in getting increments, posting and promotion.

This also falls under human right of officer. The CIC directed the IB, though broadly exempted from the RTI to furnish copy of the IB report invoking the power of IC to use proviso to S 24. Most of the former bureaucrat ICs have used this proviso positively but unfortunately several bureaucrats-turned-ICs did not like to order the disclosure.

The IC is the final authority to decide questions of disclosure. But the government filed a writ petition before the Delhi High Court to deny the IB report to the honest officer. The government is fighting its own employees and people. In our country, most of the cases are filed by the government against its own employees and the people. It is another tragedy.

The Home Ministry lost in the Delhi High Court, the order of the CIC was confirmed and the HC also directed the Ministry to give the copy of the IB report. But the government was not ready to accept even the verdict of the HC. Unfortunately, the Ministry is yet to disclose and filed a Letters Patent Appeal before Division Bench. Though the officer is still fighting several cases in different fora to defend his honesty, the RTI helped him secure relevant material evidence to get his posting restored, to get promotion as per the rules, fortunately.

He is protected, his right to continue in office is protected, his promotion is granted, and increment is sanctioned. (see the Order of CIC: CIC/SA/2016/000089 in Mr S C, IFS, vs CPIOs of Ministry of Environment and Forests dated 21.4.2016 directing disclosure of IB report, the WP C 5521/2016 & CM No 23078/2016(stay) in CPIO Intelligence Bureau v Mr S C by Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva on 23rd August 2017 directing disclosure of IB report, Ehtesham Qutbuddin Siddiqui v CPIO IB WPC 9773/2018 dated 16.1.2019 by Justice Vibhu Bhakru, and AIIMS v Mr S.C., SC in civil appeal number 1392 of 2019 SLP 27490 of 2018 dated 1.2.2019 by Indira Banerjee & R Banumati JJ).

In the last case, an accused was convicted on charge of being involved in a train blast case. But based on other investigations, the IB found that blast was ignited by Indian Mujahideens and not by the earlier accused including the applicant in this case. He sought the copy of the IB report to be used in appeal against conviction.

The IB refused to give it, citing exemption under Section 24(1). In the second appeal unfortunately, the CIC opined that the IB report need not be given because it was neither a case of corruption nor violation of human rights. He filed a WP in Delhi High Court, which said that such a conclusion of CIC was erroneous and sent it back. (Part of the keynote address by the author at the conference on RTI at Karnataka State Information Commissioner on 2nd February 2019)

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