National Herald case: CIC issues show cause notice to ED officer
New Delhi: The Central Information Commission has issued a show cause notice to an officer of the Enforcement Directorate for not responding to an RTI query seeking information about the National Herald newspaper case.
The RTI applicant had sought information from the ED seeking “copies of notes and report prepared to close the National Herald case, copies of the available records relating to re-opening the case and details of investigation report of the National Herald case, etc”.
He approached the Commission with a complaint that no response has been provided to his RTI application filed on December 18, 2015.
During the hearing before the Commission, the Enforcement Directorate said the applicant did not approach it with a first appeal.
It said the appellant was not entitled to receive the information about the “third party” as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.
There are allegations of irregularities in the allotment of land to Associate Journals Ltd, parent company of National Herald but it is not clear from the order which case the applicant was referring to.
“In addition a reference was drawn to Section 24 of the RTI Act read with Second Schedule of the RTI Act, 2005 where it was mentioned that the RTI Act does not apply to their organisation,” Information Commissioner Bimal Julka said.
On being queried by the Commission whether the Central Public Information Officer had sent a suitable reply to the appellant according to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, the respondent (Enforcement Directorate) feigned ignorance and submitted that he was not fully prepared with the facts of the case as he had joined recently, he noted.
“On perusal of the records and after considering the response of both the parties, the Commission observed that no reply was provided by the CPIO which was a grave violation of the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005,” he said.
Julka said the RTI Act, 2005 stipulates time limits in its various provisions relating to responding to RTI applications, transfer of applications, filing and disposing of first appeal to ensure that a culture of information dissemination is strengthened so that a “robust functioning” of the democracy gets established.
“Thus timely response is the essence of RTI mechanism which was created to ensure transparency and accountability in the functioning of a public authority,” he said.
Coming down heavily on the official of the Enforcement Directorate, Julka said it is therefore abundantly clear that such matters are “being ignored and set aside without application of mind” which reflects “disrespect” towards the RTI Act, 2005 itself.
“The Commission expressed its displeasure on the casual and callous approach adopted by the respondent in responding to the RTI application. It was felt that the conduct of respondent was against the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 which was enacted to ensure greater transparency and effective access to the information,” he said.
Julka instructed the then CPIO, Anop Singh Rauthan, now posted as Assistant Director (Enforcement Directorate), Jam Nagar House, here to show cause why action should not be taken under Section 20(1) of the RTI Act, 2005.
According to the Section of the RTI Act, if the officer fails to provide reasonable grounds for not furnishing the information, the Commission can levy a maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 on him which has to be furnished from his salary.