Saturday, May 27, 2017

GSPC goes to court over Rs 16, returns chastised

Times of India: Panaji: Saturday, May 27, 2017.
Court cases under the RTI Act see many twists and turns, but this curious case saw the Goa Public Service Commission (GPSC) approach the high court of Bombay at Goa to recover a sum of Rs 16 from an RTI applicant and in the process spending several times the recovery amount.
Matters came to a head after the Goa State Information Commission (GSIC) directed the public service body to provide the RTI applicant information free of charge, prompting the body to challenge the order before the high court. The case was filed in 2015.
However, the high court advised top officials of the constitutional body to reflect on the matter objectively so that its officers do not become over sensitive to the directions issued by the GSIC.
The court, in its May 15 order, noted that to recover a meagre amount of Rs 16 from the RTI applicant, the public service body incurred expenses by way of typing and stationery material, not to mention advocate fees and judicial time, and further chastised the body saying that a litigation of such a nature between institutions that are "extremely vital and important" particularly when there was no question of any serious principle involved, "hardly augurs to the functioning of both these institutions".
Justice M S Sonak said: "It will be appropriate if the chairperson of the GPSC, or some senior functionary, objectively reflected upon the present matter so that the officers of the GPSC do not become over sensitive to the directions issued by GSIC and propose petitions of the present nature."
The public service body's argument was that they provided information to the applicant within the prescribed time frame and that the lapse was on the part of the education department's public information officer (PIO) and, hence, the information commission's direction to it, to provide information to Kalpana Kamat free, was in violation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Under the RTI Act, an application is to be transferred, as soon as practicable, by one PIO to another authority which has the information. At the most, five days can be taken to transfer the application from one authority to the other, from the date of the receipt of the RTI application.
The issue arose over the time the education department PIO took to transfer the application to the public service body.
Noting that there was indeed a lapse on the part of the PIO, the high court held that after taking into consideration the plight of the RTI applicant, the information commission's direction to the public service body asking it to waive the fee of Rs 16 towards furnishing of information was reasonable.
"Some grace is naturally expected from the GPSC in a matter of such nature. Instead, in the present case, the GPSC, perhaps, out of over sensitivity of certain officials, has chosen to overact and institute the present petition in order to insist that Kamat be directed to pay the fee," Justice Sonak said, and added that if the body was seriously intent of recovering the sum, it should have made the PIO of the education department the respondent in the case.
Dismissing the petition, the high court observed: "The GPSC, in a matter of this nature, has to not only keep in mind the perspective of the citizen who has been hassled for receipt of information, but the GPSC, which is itself a constitutional authority, has to be conscious of the legal status and the position of the GSIC as well."