Sunday, April 10, 2011

Whether Information Commissions or Information Commissioners are only photocopy-providers of Government documents/record?......(Part-1)

Whether Information Commissions or Information Commissioners are only photocopy-providers of Government documents/record or they must do something more?.... – some of the people can ask: why this question arose in my mind?....
The main reason behind it is that most of the Information Commissions or Information Commissioners consider their duty only up to issuing orders for providing photo-copies of the information containing record or document, if it is available on file and if it is worth-providing, meaning thereby that it cannot be restricted from being provided. As a result, they keep on issuing/passing such orders on appeals/complaints presented before them. And to hold the above contention, they forward the logic or reason behind it as: (1) If the Information sought is not available on record, how can a PIO provide such information or how can an Information Commissioner issue orders to provide such an Information, which is not available on record; (2) If something is not available on record, even in such situation if an Information Commissioner issues orders to provide that information, it looks, as if, he/she is issuing orders and asking the officials to create such information, which is not available on records, and thus this can’t be allowed. Whereas Right to Information Act directs to keep the correct and complete information in appropriate order, to maintain and manage the correct and complete information properly so as to enable the public authority to provide the gathered information as and when required or sought from it. In short, RTI Act does not empower to issue orders to forge or fabricate or create information. Besides the above, it is also a fact that: what kind of information is to be given and what are the aspects of Information, on which Information is to be provided essentially, have been mentioned in the RTI Act clearly.
Many times, it appears that Central Public Information Officer provides the photocopies of the documents, in which information seems to have been recorded and if he/she fails to do it, the information seeker goes in the shelter of Information Commission or Information Commissioner so as to get correct and complete information. But in such situation, not only sometimes rather often the Information Commissioner has been seen issuing order only to provide the photocopies of the documents concerned….. If we consider this as true, the RTI Commissions or RTI Commissioners prove themselves only as the providers of photocopies of the official documents. But my humble feeling here is that it is not the fact and the truth of the RTI Act, meaning there by Right to Information Act has not been visualized only to do so or to do like-wise. If it would have been the truth of RTI Act, the objectives of the RTI Act, as are being attested, had not been mentioned in its Preamble. The objectives mentioned in preamble of the RTI Act are: (1) In order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every Public Authority; (2) To secure access to Information under the control of Public Authority. Out of both the objectives mentioned here in above, the second objective appears as a tool or as a means of achieving the first objective. Because, if it was not the fact, it should not have been mentioned in the following part of the text of the Preamble, which is reproduced here in verbatim that “And whereas the Constitution of India has established democratic Republic;
And whereas democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information, which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold government and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.” The above mentioned Preamble leads us towards that there should have been transparency in the working of Government and the Government Officials. In case any Government Officer or Servant has been the part of some corruption, he/she could be marked as per potential of the Act. And when he/she had been marked, he/she could be penalized up to the limitation of the provision of the RTI Act and finally the corruption could be checked. If this was not being done, it appears that Information Commissioners and Information Commissions enriched with such Information Commissioners only look like photocopy-providers of Government documents, which should never happen and which is not the target of the RTI Act.
Section 2 of Right to Information Act defines various terms used in the Act. When we look at the contents of this Section, it comes up that the terms “information” and “record” have been defined separately and “file, document, disk” etc. have been calculated as the part of record. This depiction makes it clear that RTI Act has not taken “information”, “record”, “file”, “document”, “disk” etc. as the same entity, rather it considers all these entities as different entities. The information could be based on or related to one aspect or more aspects or all the aspects of any “record”, “file”, “document”, “disk” etc. But it is totally different from record; it is the cause: why ‘information’ and ‘record’ are defined separately. The Right to Information Act 2005 guaranties the Indian Citizen to receive information and empowers an Indian Citizen to be enriched with regard to information. His/her right is on Information. Besides, he/she could also get a copy of the “record”, “file”, “document”, “disk” etc. so as to ensure that the information provided is based on record, it is as per record, is authentic and it is not false, incorrect and incomplete. Perhaps, this was the cause, why this Act was not termed as Right to Record Act or Right to Document Act. The nomenclature of Right to Information Act suggests that the right of an Indian Citizen is on information or is to receive information, but besides it he/she can also get a photocopy of the concerned “record”, “file”, “document”, “disk” etc. It is also notable here that Sub-section 9 of Section 7 of RTI Act provides that “An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought, unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question.” When the above-mentioned text is seen carefully, it comes up that in case the objective of the Act would have been only to make available the copy of the document or record, it had not been mentioned in the text of Section 7 (9) that “An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought”, as it had been expressed, which also makes it clear that Right to Information Act 2005 guarantees for the information to be provided to an information seeker in the same format, in which it is sought. This provision gives the Public Authority an opportunity to introspect its record regularly with a possibility to update it regularly by using the processes of managing, maintaining and destroying some part of the record totally or partially, because no public authority can know all future possibilities of the forms in which the information shall be sought from it by the future information aspirants/ information seekers and when-ever it is learnt from looking at the form of information seeking sheet/questionnaire that some decision had been taken wrongly in the past, the public authority should be capable to destruct that part of its record.