NEW DELHI – The Central Information Commission (CIC) has advised people to exercise “some restraint in the number of queries” filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act while criticising an applicant for lacking a “sense of responsibility”.
The CIC’s advice came on an application filed by one Kanhiya Lal who had sought information regarding admissions into a Delhi government school. He had appealed to the CIC after he was unsatisfied with the reply of the city government’s education department.
In his order, information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi noted: “The appellant has used the RTI without a sense of responsibility and has asked 100 queries stretching it to 16 pages. The citizen has been given a right but he must use this with some sense of responsibility and sending 100 queries over 16 pages or more does not display any sense of responsibility.”
“A citizen must understand that it is in his interest that the government functions efficiently and it is not correct to try and overburden or pulverize the government’s functions. In spite of this, the PIO (Principal Information Officer) has tried to give the information,” he added. “The appellant was asked to identify what information had not been provided to him. He is not able to give any instance of information which he has sought which has not been provided,” Gandhi observed. “A citizen must realise that he is asking for the government to allocate some resource to provide the information to him. Hence he must use this with respect or the fact that the government is responsible to all citizens and not just to him. Some restraint in the number of queries must be exercised by the citizens,” he said.
The information commissioner has even advised government officials to “offer an inspection of the relevant files” to the appellant when such long RTI queries are made “instead of trying to spend a lot of time and diverting the resources significantly”. However, under the RTI Act 2005, there are no provisions on the number of queries that can be asked. Delhi-based RTI activist Bibhav Kumar said: “By this decision, it seems the information commission is acting as a consultant to government officials whereas it should try to get the applicant the required information.
“Such orders will encourage government departments and give them an excuse that giving information would require diverting of resources that would ultimately deny information to the applicant,” Kumar, who works for the NGO Kabir, told IANS Gandhi himself was an RTI activist before he was appointed an information commissioner at the CIC. “I agree a citizen should not ask a lot of questions in one query. However, there is no provision in the RTI Act on the number of queries that a person can ask in one application. Such kind of orders by the information commission are against the spirit of the RTI Act,” he added.
“The government departments do not give information easily. And cases of an applicant asking for voluminous information are very few. We also need to understand what conditions force people to ask so many questions,” Kumar said. “More than four years have passed since the RTI Act was passed, but a lot of government departments till date are not maintaining theirinformation in accordance with the RTI Act,” he added.