Saturday, June 24, 2017

Roll of public information officer is crucial, says CIC

Times of India: New Delhi: Saturday, June 24, 2017.
In an order that reiterates the importance of the public information officer, the CIC has said that the PIO is not just a "despatch clerk" or "post office", but plays a "crucial" role. The strictures came during the hearing on an appeal filed by an RTI applicant at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI). The applicant had asked for information related to a professor and another scholar, both of whom the applicant alleged had plagiarised his work.
The appellant in his complaint had alleged that the requested information had not been shared with him, and that the cheif information officer of the public authority, ISI, had simply passed on the statement of Director of the institute. The appellant also said that ISI did not inform him whether there was any action or any inquiry upon his complaint.
Commenting on the actions of the public information officer, information commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu said, "The PIO claimed that he was an administrative officer and had nothing to say on academic matters, and thus he simply forwarded whatever the Director gave. The PIO plays a crucial role in making the right to information for the citizens as a reality. He cannot just leave it to the other officers, but decide what information could be given to the appellant." Acharyulu went on to add that the PIO is not just a "despatch clerk or post office". "He has to take decision after duly applying his mind," said the information commissioner, adding that the RTI Act had clearly laid down the duties and obligations of a public information officer. According to Acharyulu, the RTI Act envisages the public information offcier to act in a "just and speedy manner", providing accurate information to the applicant in time without discrepancies. "Inaction of the PIO is an infringement of the Right to Information vested in the citizens of the country," added the information commissioner.
Acharyulu also came down on the Indian Statistical Institute, saying that prevention of misconduct is the general responsibility of the public authority. "The Institute should have acted upon the complaint and informed him whether his complaint was considered to be taken up for inquiry or was rejected, if so the reasons thereof; if inquiry was ordered, what is the status of that inquiry," observed Acharyulu, adding, "Based on the contentions of the parties, the Commission assumes that there is no such inquiry. Hence, the Commission exercising its powers under Section 18(2) of RTI Act, direct the public authority to conduct an inquiry into the matter and send the report to this Commission."