New Delhi (ILNS): The Central Information Commission (CIC) has issued a show cause notice to four Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) for prima facie obstruction of information and providing an evasive reply on an RTI seeking information on the creation of the Aarogya Setu App.
The commission has further directed the CPIO, National Information Commission (NIC) to submit written submissions detailing their role in creation of the website https://aarogyasetu.gov.in/ with the domain name gov.in.
The order was passed by Information Commisioner Vanaja N. Sarna on an RTI application filed by Saurav Das seeking a true copy of the entire file related to the creation of the Aarogya Setu App including its origin, companies, file notings, minutes of the meetings held while creating the app, law under which the app was created and other related information.
The complainant in his complaint to the Commission mentioned that there was no reply given by the CPIO, National E-Governance Division, MeitY and CPIO, MeitY.
The complainant further submitted that the information was not provided by the NIC since it stated that it “does not hold the information” relating to the App’s creation, which is very surprising since it is the App’s developer.
He further argued that there seems to be a pattern among these public authorities to wilfully withhold information from any applicant asking for this information as no public authority has any details about any of the questions as asked which to him seems out-rightly false, malafide and done with an effort to frustrate and harass the applicant to give up.
After hearing the averments of all the concerned parties and also the CPIO NIC , the Commission said that , “the denial of information by all the concerned authorities cannot be accepted at all.”
The commissioner further observed that
“The addressees cannot simply wash their hands off by stating that the information is not available with them. Some effort should have been put in to find out the custodian(s) of the information sought, by the concerned public authorities when apparently they are the relevant parties.”
The Commission has also directed the four CPIOs to appear before the bench on 24.11.2020 at 01.15 pm to show-cause as to why action should not be initiated against them under Section 20 of the RTI Act.
Section 20 (1) of the Central Act states that “Public Information Officers” can be penalised, but when read with s.5(5) of the Central Act (which states that any officer whose assistance is sought by a PIO will be treated as a PIO for purposes of the Act’s penalty clauses) it is clear that in practice any official can be sanctioned for non-compliance if they have shirked their duties under the law.
Before a penalty is imposed under s.20(1) of the Central Act however, an official must be given a reasonably opportunity of being heard. The official is responsible for providing that he/she acted reasonable and diligently.
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Under section 20(2) of the Central Act, where a monetary penalty is imposed, the Information Commission can also recommend disciplinary action against the PIO under the applicable service rules.