DNA: Nashik: Monday, May 08, 2017.
In an unusual case, alleged denial of information to an RTI applicant was used as leverage by an official of the state information commission's Nashik bench to demand a bribe from a school principal. The Maharashtra Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) on Saturday arrested an assistant desk officer of the state information commission (Nashik bench) for allegedly accepting a bribe from the principal.
Ravindra Sonar, 34, who is also an administrative desk officer in the commission, was allegedly caught red-handed while accepting a bribe of Rs 10,000 from the complainant principal.
"The desk officer first called the complainant who is a principal of Lion's Nutan Vidya Mandir, Dhule saying that she is being fined Rs 25,000 for not providing information sought under an RTI application. The complainant said that she had provided all the information. However, Sonar insisted that the information was not given, and threatened to fine her for Rs 25,000, when he did not even have the power to penalise," said Sunil Gamurde, deputy superintendent of police, ACB, Dhule.
Gamurde added, "He then sought for a bribe on May 4 and asked her or someone she knew to meet him. Her husband met Sonawane, to whom he said that Rs 15,000 had to be paid to him to escape the penalty under RTI," said Gamurde.
As per RTI Act, public information officers can be fined a maximum amount of Rs 25,000 if they fail to provide information or give misleading information. The fine, however, can be levied only by a state information commissioner.
"He (Sonar) then settled for Rs 10,000. The complainant approached us and informed us about this. We spoke to our seniors and a trap was laid on the ground floor near the entrance of the building that houses the state information commission. He was taken into custody at around 11 am when we caught him red-handed while taking the money from the complainant, and he was arrested by 7 pm. He will now be produced before a special ACB court," added Gamurde.
"There have always been rumours that such things have been taking place at the information commission. It is good that someone showed courage and a person was caught. In a number of cases, people are not able to come forward. In such cases, the investigation should be done right till the commissioner level. How can a desk officer say that the commissioner will not fine anyone. If in any department, a person is caught, his senior officers are also in the the realm of inquiry. The police should investigate the matter thoroughly," said RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar.
"If the machinery set up to ensure transparency itself has cases of corruption, how will things move ahead? Part of this is because they have not been showing transparency in appointment of commissioners, and have appointed those who have had allegations of misconduct on them in the past," Kumbhar added.
K L Bishnoi, state information commissioner of Nashik bench said, "Once the ACB report is received, action will be taken on the officer. There is no point in supporting such people."
On demands of an inquiry right up to the commissioner level, Bishnoi said, "There may be people who want to doubt, but the order in this case was given as early as April 19, and the complainant was not fined because she had provided the information sought. It may be that she may not have received the order copy. All orders are given in open court, notes are taken the very moment, and orders are printed."
"We strongly protest what happened. Basically,. administration at the commission benches needs to be tightened. Secretaries do not sit in their offices, and there is no follow-up of commission orders. If there was no penalty levied, and he was still demanding money, then it indicates alteration of order. If the commission is not able to check compliance of fines imposed, then they should appoint NGOs to do the same," said Bhaskar Prabhu, another RTI actvist.