The Central Information Commission recently observed that as much as a CPIO has a statutory responsibility of complying with the provisions of the RTI Act, it is also expected of the RTI Applicant/s "to not undermine the spirit of the RTI Act by clogging the system with such a barrage of RTI applications, merely claiming that these are aimed at combatting corruption."
The Chief Information Commissioner Y. K. Sinha was hearing the complaint of complainant who filed RTI applications (35 in number) seeking information regarding action taken on his various complaints filed before the respondent public authority.
CPIO/US, PMO Response
The CPIO/Under Secretary, PMO vide letter dated 04th June 2019 replied to him as under –
"It has been observed that you have filed a large number of RTI Applications with this office. During the current year i.e. 2019 itself, so far 36 Application under RTI Act have been received. A list of these RTI Applications is enclosed herewith. Out of these, response to 18 applications has already been sent. It has been observed that all applications filed by you are on the issue i.e. complaint(s) filed by you in connection with 'delayed refunds by Officers of ACIT Circle-3, Bokaro Steel City'
3. In the light of the above decisions, we have reached to a conclusion to not to respond to your remaining 17 applications under RTI Act. You are also advised not to flood this Public Authority with RTI Applications on the same matter involving no larger public interest."
It was also stated before the Commission that the status of a grievance could be checked by a citizen on http://pgportal.gov.in/Status by using the registration number of his petition.
Gist of the action taken by the authorities and the copy of the reply to the applicant is also uploaded on the portal. Further telephonic enquiries relating to the grievances may be made on Public Wing's facilitation number on working days and during working hours.
Redressal of grievance in such cases is within the purview of the appropriate authority to which the grievance is forwarded.
Thus, it was submitted that the status and other details of the petitions are already accessible by the Petitioners on the online PG portal.
"Sufficient information relating to processing of the petitions received in the office has also been made available on the website of this office in the form of FAQ. Thus, there was no need to seek such information by petitioners through applications under the RTI Act, 2005", CPIO/US, PMO submitted.
The Complainant's representative stated before the Commission that incorrect and misleading response was provided by the CPIO in all these matters hence penal action should be initiated against him.
He further stated that complaints mentioned in each RTI application were different and not on the same issues as mentioned in the replies of CPIO dated 04.06.2019.
Furthermore, he argued that the decision of the CPIO not to respond to the remaining RTI applications was against the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.
He also stated that contrary to the stand of the CPIO, the issues raised are in the larger public interest as it relates to multiple issues including a bogus IT refunds scam amounting to Rs 30 Crores for the assessment years mentioned in the Complaints filed with PMO.
The Commission came to the conclusion that no malafide could be attributed to the conduct of the CPIO in the instant cases.
The Commission agreed with the stand taken by the CPIO and observed that instead of filing multiple RTI applications, the Complainant could have filed a single consolidated application.
The Commission importantly remarked,
"Even if the Commission were to reluctantly acknowledge that this is an attempt on the Complainant's part to fight corruption, the means adopted by him stifles and defeats the very purpose of the RTI Act.
In other words, however noble the purpose of this vigorous attempt to bring about probity in the functioning of the revenue authorities viz. D/o Revenue, IT department, Bokaro and Hazaribagh would have been, the fact remains that the means adopted by the Complainant by inundating the PMO with unrelated RTI cases unfortunately only points to the ignorance of the Complainant about the spirit of the RTI Act."
In the light of the above discussion and in view of the fact that the Complainant could not establish malafide/ unreasonable conduct on the part of the CPIO, the Complaints were dismissed.