Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Stop playing cat & mouse, Central Information Commission tells departments over missing files

Economic Times: New Delhi: Wednesday, June 07, 2017.
It’s time for government departments to account for their feline residents, among other lapses. Exasperated with repeated cases of files lost and information denied, the Central Information Commission has directed the government to find a way to protect government records and recreate them if they are lost.
In a detailed judgement, CIC said that some departments get an allowance to keep cats but even then over the past 11 years of implementation of the Right to Information Act the number of cases of files getting lost and information denied under the Act have been increasing.
Information Commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu said that frequent reference to “missing files” is really an “excuse to deny the information” and is a major threat to “transparency, accountability and the also major reason for violation of RTI Act”.
Millions of RTI applications might have been rejected by PIOs  (public information officers) on this ground during the last 11 years of RTI regime. With ‘missing files excuse’ being around, it will be futile to talk about implementation of RTI Act… Most surprisingly, while using this excuse profusely, no public authority made any effort to address Acharyulu said in his order. The information commissioner directed the Department of Personnel and Training to work out a proper system to prevent loss of files and recreate files that have been lost.
He said that the claim of missing files indicates deliberate destruction of records to “hide corruption, fraud or immoral practices of public servants”.
He asked the DoPT to develop comprehensive guidelines to handle the issue of missing files, through better preservation and retrieval systems and see how alternative or shadow files need to be built.
DoPT also needs to take steps to prevent the phenomenon of missing of files and spell out appropriate disciplinary or legal action to be taken in case of deliberate destruction of records, the order said.
The information commissioner asked the DoPT to borrow best practices from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US and UK archival systems. Acharyulu was hearing a case filed by retired IAS officer Vijendra Singh Jafa, who had sought copies of specific letters dating
back to 1995 on vigilance cases pending against him.
Despite the retired officer giving specific file numbers and letter numbers, the social justice and empowerment ministry could not furnish the records and the request was transferred repeatedly from one desk to another.