Govt. officials violate RTI Act with impunity, says CIC

He says courts curtailed powers of information panels
Chief Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava has accused government officials of violating the Right to Information Act with impunity, taking advantage of court orders that they cannot be penalised except in cases of mala fide intent. He was speaking at a public meeting for users of the RTI Act, organised by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) on Wednesday, when retired Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur emphasised the need for penalties to be imposed against the officials who delay or wrongly deny information under the Act. “When a government officer denies or delays information on pension benefits for a poor widow, there must be consequences,” Justice Lokur said. “They must face penalties or disciplinary proceedings.” Mr. Bhargava agreed that penalties were needed to ensure effective implementation of the transparency law, but indicated that the State and Central information commissions (CIC) had their powers curbed by judicial orders requiring proof of mala fide intent on the part of the offender. “Public information officers take advantage of this as it is very hard to prove mala fide intent,” he said. RTI activists say that the CIC and SICs are not using their powers to impose penalties even in cases where proof of mala fide intent is not necessary. Data from the commissions showed that they failed to impose penalties in 97% of the cases where violations of the RTI Act took place in 2018-19. “Proof of mala fide intent is only needed in cases where an official wrongly denied information. Even then, the commission should at least be issuing a show cause notice. In the vast number of cases of delay in providing information – some as long as a thousand days – penalties can be imposed unless the officer shows a reasonable cause for the delay. When the commissions fail to take action against such officials, they are encouraging a culture of impunity,” said Anjali Bhardwaj of the SNS.

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