New Delhi: The Prime Minister's Office has said it holds no "information" related to the deaths in the aftermath of demonetisation, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, 2016.
The Central Public Information Officer of the PMO made the claim before the Central Information Commission which was hearing the case of an RTI applicant who was not provided with the information within the mandated period of 30 days after filing of his application.
The then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had told Rajya Sabha in response to a question on December 18, 2018 that according to information available three officials of State Bank of India and one of its customers died during the period of demonetisation.
This was reportedly first such government admission of deaths related to demonetisation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on November 8, 2016 that Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes, which constituted about 86 per cent of total currency in circulation, will cease to be legal tender. They were replaced by new Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 notes. Several restrictions were also placed on the withdrawal of currency notes from bank.
There were reports from across the country about the deaths of people linked to the demonetisation move.
One Neeraj Sharma had filed an RTI application with the PMO seeking to know the total number of deaths in the aftermath of demonetisation and a list of the deceased.
As there was no response from the PMO within the stipulated 30 days, Sharma approached the CIC seeking imposition of penalty against the officer.
During the hearing, the CPIO of the PMO tendered an unconditional apology for the delay in responding to the application and requested the Commission to condone it.
He further stated that the information sought by Sharma does not fall within the definition of 'information' as per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act. Hence, no information could have been provided to him.
"The Commission, after hearing the submissions of both the parties and perusing the records, observes that the complainant's RTI application dated 28.10.2017 was received by the respondent authority on the same day. However, a reply thereof was provided to him by the CPIO vide letter dated 07.02.2018. Hence, there was a delay of about two months on the part of the respondent in furnishing a reply to the complainant," Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava said.
He, however, did not impose any penalty in the absence of any mala fide intention.
"Nonetheless, the Commission would like to counsel the CPIO, Prime Minister's Office, New Delhi, to be more careful in future so that such lapses do not recur, and information is provided to the information seeker within the stipulated time," he said. In a separate case on the same issue, Bhargava termed the question as hypothetical.