Bhopal: In a landmark verdict, the MP State Information Commission took strong objection to a government department not only hassling an RTI applicant for desired information but also asking the applicant to furnish certain information. The officer concerned was issued a show cause notice and levied a penalty of Rs 1 lakh for denial of information in four cases.
Madhya Pradesh Information commissioner Rahul Singh has issued a show cause notice and penalty against the deputy director of mining department in Satna town, which is notorious for violations of mining norms and flouting environmental laws.
Normally, a maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 can be levied against a guilty Public Information officer (PIO). As this case relates to four different RTI appeals regarding mining activity, thus a penalty in each case of Rs 25,000 adds up to Rs One lakh.
Appellant Amit Singh Chouhan had filed four RTI applications seeking queries related to mining activity of Prism Johnson limited Satna in July 2019. Amit, an advocate by profession, was shocked when instead of receiving information he was quizzed by the PIO to furnish details such as the land record of the company in order to avail the information under RTI.
Singh, in his order on Saturday, said that PIO Deepmala Tiwari, Deputy Director in Satna district’s mining department, with an intention to harass the appellant and to delay the information, quizzed the RTI applicant about the known facts held by the department itself. Singh further questioned how an RTI applicant was supposed to get information which is in possession of the PIO office.
Besides, the company has large areas under mining operations which are well known to the district mining department, Singh said during the hearing.
Sensing penal action, the PIO admitted before the commission that information related to mining is available and can be easily provided. Singh said that Section 5 (3) of RTI Act, states clearly that PIO would extend support and possible help to the RTI applicant, but in this case it was more of harassment and less of cooperation and as a result the information, which should be ideally processed in 30 days, is yet to be provided even after 300 days.
Chouhan in his RTI application has also raised queries like land schedule and mining plan, production and royalty and excavation details at the mining site.
The State Information Commissioner ruled out that this case merits disclosure of information as media reports often suggest most of the companies flout mining norms and cause losses to the exchequer and often pose a threat to the environment due to rampant mining beyond the permissible limits.
During the hearing, PIO Deepmala Tiwari also raised a point that one of the information requested is not held by her department. This plea also fell flat before the commission. Singh said, “If the information is being held by any other department, then PIO must have transferred the RTI query within the stipulated period of 5 days under section 6 (5) of the RTI act. But under no circumstances, PIO should sit on the RTI application for close to a year.”
Singh concluded that Tiwari erred in turning down few points of RTI query, citing that these are not in question form. Singh says RTI applicant sought to know the details of royalty pending from the mining company and it can’t be turned down merely on the basis that the query is in question form, queries must be answered if the information is available on record.
Another query from Amit Chouhan was circumvented by Tiwari, saying schemes of mining plan is neither prepared nor approved by the district office. Singh ruled out that the PIO purposefully circumvented the query saying, “The local mining officer is entrusted with the task to keep a check of mining activity of the miner which can’t be possible, without local department having access to the mining plan”, says Singh in his order.
Mining department had also turned down a query from Amit Chohan, saying land acquisition details of miners are not available with the department as it gives only NOC on land acquisition. Singh rejected this excuse as well, calling it a violation of Public Record Act 1993 and Public Records Rules 1997 which demands proper maintenance of records in government offices.
Asking the PIO to respond to show cause notice and penalty of Rs 1 lakh in the next hearing on July 6, the SIC ordered the PIO to make the records available free of cost to the applicant.