A Public Information Officer (PIO), under the provisions of Right to Information Act, has the duty to provide the requested information within the stipulated time period.
The RTI applicant will if such information is not provided in the given time period will attract statutory liability on PIO for not providing information.
If you are a public information officer you must be aware of the reasons which are not quite acceptable and will attract penal provisions against the public information officer for not providing information.
For an RTI applicant, he must be prepared with any reasons produced by the Public Information Officer for not providing the information, if the RTI applicant is legally bound to obtain such information.
The article discusses such reasons/mistakes that public information officer, produce in not providing information and cause injury to its office and will consequently attract penal action against them by the Central or State Information Commission.
- Rejecting Application Outright Because of Information Does Not Belogin to His Concerning Department/Office.
- Not Complying With Orders Passed By First Appellate Authority.
- Providing/Sending Information Without Following Rules.
- Not Providing Information For That, The Applicant Had Sought Information In Another Application
- Sending False Information
- Consequences For Rejecting Information
A Public Information Officer, as well as RTI applicant must know that if the public information officer of any concerning government department or office must not return the application or reject the application.
The Right to Information Act, is clear that the public information officer cannot outright reject an application that does not concern his department or office, rather than transfer the application to the concerning public information officer with which the information is likely to be available.
Section 6 of the Act directs public information officer to make such transfer within 15 days from the date of receipt of the application to the concerning department/office, where the information is likely available.
The applicant has the right to file First Appeal before the First Appellate Authority if the public information officer has not provided information to the applicant on any frivolous ground under Section 19 of the Right to Information Act.
It is also necessary on the part of the public information officer, to also convey who is the First Appellate Authority where such First Appeal can be filed by the RTI Act.
Generally, the first appellate authority passes orders directing the public information officer, to provide information to the applicant within specified days to the applicant.
However, the applicant also has the right to produce its defence on which ground, the information cannot be provided to the RTI applicant.
It must be noted that no information can be rejected unless the information does not come under the provision of Sections 8 and 11 of the Right to Information Act.
The public information officer while providing information has to adhere to the rules in providing the information to the applicant for RTI.
The rules prescribe duties to public information officers on receiving applications pertaining to RTI, sending requests to the proper department from where information can be obtained and the procedure to provide information to the RTI applicant.
For example, the public information officer has to, before supplying information to the applicant has to provide the number of pages the information is about and the per-page charges applicable to it.
The public information officer has to submit this piece of information in a prescribed format to the RTI applicant and after receiving charges will provide the information.
The public information officer has to abide by all rules applicable to it and should always be ready to produce valid reasons for not abiding to the said rules.
Some of the rules that, a public information officer must know I have liked to this article:
- Rejection of Information On Grounds of Privacy
An application seeking information can only be rejected under the grounds as prescribed under Section 8, 9 and 10 the Right to Information Act, 2005.
However, the public information officer in case of information seeking documents pertaining to privacy of a third person does not have the full discretion in rejecting the information.
The public information officer in such case has to inform the person whose documents if revealed will violate privacy of him by sending a letter of consent to disclose information to the person seeking information. The letter has to be sent in the prescribed format within 5 days from the date of receipt of RTI application.
The third party shall be sent his consent or representation within 10 days from the date of receipt of the letter.
The public information officer has the sole discretion after informing the third party whether disclose or not to disclose the information to the RTI applicant.
If public information officer does not receive any consent in required time for disclosure of information, he can have the discretion in disclosure of the information. Provided that, the third party will have the right to file an appeal under Section 11(4) of the Act.
An RTI applicant can file series of RTI applications whereby, it can seek the same information multiple amounts of times.
This happens when the applicant generally does not know the legal framework and the statutory provisions of the law but does this because they really believe that our system of Right to Information will be fair in providing information.
However, the public information officer is bound by the law and cannot reject such information if the same information is sought multiple times, by the RTI applicant, because, there is no provision for rejection of application as prescribed under Section 8 of the Act.
In a similar case, multiple application seeking same information does not grant liberty to the public information officer from not providing information.
The statutory provision under Section 8(1) describes as under:
8. Exemption from disclosure of information.—
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,—
(a) information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence;
(b) information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;
(c) information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;
(d) information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;
(e) information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;
(f) information received in confidence from foreign government;
(g) information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes;
(h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
(i) cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers: Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over: Provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed;
(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has not relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.
This is the most illogical mistake a PIO will make that he may send false information that has no relevance to the information or documents asked by the RTI applicant.
By sending false information will attract penal provisions against the public information officer. However, the PIO can correct its position by sending valid information when the issue is taken before the First Appellate Authority and the Central/State Information Commission in their respective appeals.
If the Central or the State Information Commission has found that, the PIO has mala fidely deny the request for information or knowingly giving incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroying information which was the subject matter of request or obstructing in furnishing information.
The public information can also be charged for delay in providing information for which the public information officer will be liable to pay a penalty of Rs 250.00 per day of the number of days delayed which shall not be greater than Rs. 25,000/-.
The public Information officer can also be liable to penalty in case where he did not furnish information without any reasonable cause and persistently fail to furnish information and knowingly giving incorrect incomplete or misleading information, for which the bench of Information Commission can recommend disciplinary action against the public information officer.
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