Bhopal: In a first such action, irked with continued non-compliance of orders passed over a period of two years, the Madhya Pradesh State Information Commission has issued an arrest warrant against Dr Vikram Singh Verma, Chief Medical & Health Officer (CMHO) of District Burhanpur.
In addition, the Commission has also slapped a show cause notice for disciplinary action on Akash Tripathi, Commissioner, Directorate of Health Services, and has summoned him for a personal appearance for showing “blatant disregard” for the orders of State Information Commission (SIC).
The six-page-long arrest warrant and show cause notice were issued by the State information commissioner Rahul Singh on September 21.
The action came after RTI (Right to Information) appellant Sadashiv Sonwane had filed an application with the CMHO Burhanpur on August 10, 2017. Sonwane had sought information related to the posting and appointment of drivers with the health department in Burhanpur district. But Verma didn’t respond to the RTI application within the stipulated 30 days.
On receiving no response from the public information officer or PIO, the RTI applicant filed a first appeal where the First Appellate Authority issued an order on October 7, 2017, to Verma asking him to disclose the information to Sonwane. But despite this order, the CMHO refused to provide information to Sonwane.
In this RTI appeal case, first the CMHO, who is also the PIO showed “continued flagrant indifference’ and non-compliance of SIC’s successive orders. Following which, the SIC imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on the CMHO on December 16, 2020 and urged the department to deduct the amount from his salary.
But the saga of non-compliance continued. The controlling officer of the PIO, the Commissioner, Health Department, also turned a blind eye to several orders issued by the SIC, first to secure the CMHO’s appearance before the SIC and later for recovery of the penalty amount.
Singh in his orders said: "The SIC has been compelled to exercise powers as are vested in a civil court while trying suit under Code of Civil Procedure 1908 (5 of 1908) by virtue of Section 18 (3) (f) of RTI Act read with Rule 8 (6) (ii) of MP RTI (Fees & Appeal) Rules 2005."
Information Commissioner Rahul Singh in his order said the “conduct and demeanour of the PIO and the Commissioner clearly reflects apathetic disregard of the law passed by the Parliament for creating transparent and accountable governance.” He added “It is disheartening and disappointing to see Officers, who are responsible and obligated to citizens under the RTI Act, are actively neglecting, violating, and obstructing the operation of the RTI Act, which is part of the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India.”
Calling for strict action in this appeal, Singh said: “The SIC, as a statutory body established to promote and uphold the letter & spirit of the RTI Act, can’t remain a mute spectator to such blatant repeated violations of the RTI Act. If such violations are not addressed properly, it will create a mockery of the law and institutions established to uphold the law.”
Aggrieved with non-compliance of the orders, Sonwane filed a second appeal with SIC on March 22, 2018. The SIC, while hearing the case, issued numerous summons dated to Dr Verma. But he failed to attend any proceedings or produce any document in compliance with the summons without providing any justifiable reasons or lawful excuse.
The SIC had directed the Commissioner, Health, on these dates to ensure appearance of the PIO. But he didn’t comply, violating Rule 8 (4) of MP RTI Appeal and Fees Rule 2005 which says the Commission’s order is final and binding.
Finally, the SIC imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on Dr Verma on December 16, 2020 and deduct it from his salary.
The SIC again asked the Commissioner to deduct the penalty amount from the salary of the PIO and deposit it with the SIC. However, the SIC, despite all these orders and directions over two years, failed to ensure the PIO’s appearance and recover the penalty amount.
Subsequently, the State information Commissioner Rahul Singh issued an arrest warrant under Section 18(3) of RTI Act, 2005.
The warrant has directed the Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Indore Division to execute the warrant to secure personal attendance of Dr. Vikram Singh, Chief Medical & Health Officer, Burhanpur before the SIC at 12 noon on October 5, 2021 in Court Room No. 4.
The warrant reads: “Dr. Vikram Singh shall give bail himself in the sum of Rupees 5000/- to attend before me on the 11th day of October, 2021, at 12 noon, he may be released. Singh has also directed the Commissioner Directorate Health Services to ensure recovery of the penalty and initiate disciplinary action against Dr Verma within 15 days of the receipt of SIC order.”
What RTI Act and Rules say about violations?
According to Singh, once the PIO violates Section 7 (1) of RTI Act 2005, by not providing information within 30 days of the RTI application penalty of Rs 250 per day, not exceeding maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 shall be imposed on the guilty PIO under Section 20 of the Act. T
The PIO is expected to deposit the amount with the SIC within one month. As per Rule 8 (6)(3)(i) of the M.P. Right to Information (Fees & Appeal) Rules, 2005, the PIO has been mandated to deposit the imposed penalty with the SIC within one month of the receipt of penalty order issued by the SIC.
As per Rule 8 (6)(iii) of the MP Right to Information (Fees & Appeal) Rules, 2005, if the PIO fails to deposit the imposed penalty amount within the prescribed time limit, the SIC shall report to the disciplinary authority concerned to take disciplinary action and ensure recovery of imposed penalty amount against the PIO. Section 19 (8) a of RTI Act says the Commission has the power required by a public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this Act.
Rule 8 (4) and Section 19 (7) of RTI Act state that order of the SIC shall be binding on the officer concerned.