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Officer fined under RTI

Debajit Goswami addresses the news conference in Guwahati on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Jan. 3: The state information commission, Assam, has fined the state public information officer in the office of the chief engineer of Assam public health engineering (PHE) department for failing to furnish information sought under the RTI Act regarding funds released by the Centre under its Rajiv Gandhi Rural Water and Sanitation Mission.

In its recent order, the commission asked the officer, Debendra Sarma, to pay a fine of Rs 250 per day, subject to a maximum of Rs 25,000, to applicant Debajit Goswami. The fines should be counted from December 7, 2012.

Goswami, secretary of the Assam RTI Forum, had filed an application on March 30 last year seeking details about the schemes implemented by the state-level executive committee under the mission, project value of each scheme and copy of the work order issued to various parties, but the officer rejected his application and raised doubts about his citizenship.

The first appellant authority, in a letter to the applicant (PHE-77/RTI/2012/52), said the same information was provided to another applicant, Rajib Khaund, a resident of Noonmati.

There is, however, no such provision in the RTI Act, 2005, that a person would be denied information if he/she seeks something already sought by another applicant.

Goswami then moved the state information commission on July 7, which summoned the officer but he did not turn up for the hearing and sought an adjournment. On November 19, the commission directed him to furnish the required information free of cost within 15 days and fixed December 17 as the next date of hearing. The officer, instead of following the commission’s order, filed a writ petition in Gauhati High Court against it. The court, however, rejected it and upheld the information commission’s order.

“The officer should have furnished the information to the applicant within December 6 but it has not been done. As such the officer violated the commission’s order, for which he is liable to be penalised under section 20 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005. The commission, therefore, impose a penalty of Rs 250 per day subject to maximum of Rs 25,000,” the order of the commission passed on December 19 said.

Goswami today said, “I received the commission’s order copy on December 29 but so far I have not received the information even as the commission asked the officer to give me the details immediately free of cost. I will move the information commission again and lodge a complaint against the officer.”

Goswami suspected that there were large-scale irregularities in the implementation of the mission and hence the PHE department was refusing to furnish information sought under the RTI Act.