By: M.S.Yatnatti: Editor and Video Journalist Bangalore: According to a court case, RTI applicants can directly approach the SIC or CIC, as in case maybe, and lodge a complaint if they do not get a response from the PIO within 30 days.Right to Information (RTI) applicants can complain directly to State Information Commissions (SICs) or Central Information Commission (CICs) if no reply from either Public Information Officers (PIOs) or Appellate Authorities (AAs) has been received within a stipulated time frame. The Kerala High Court had also said that SICs and CICs are entitled and must investigate complaints from RTI applicants if PIOs are not doing their duties. In case they do not, PIOs will be fined to the extent of the number of days they have not responded. There was a case involving a government official who failed to do his duty and who did not furnish information within the stipulated period, as per the RTI Act. This happened in 2009, when B Sajikumar, who was a State Public Information Officer at Kottangal Village, petitioned the court against the SIC's order and decision to levy a fine of Rs21,750 against him towards neglect of duty and delay in providing the information to an RTI applicant. Earlier, he argued that the RTI applicant should have approached the First Appellate Authority (FAA) instead of complaining directly to the SIC. However, the court maintained that it was the right of an RTI applicant to approach SIC directly and seek remedy by quoting Section 18 and Section 19 of the RTI Act. The court said, "It is open to the person seeking information to move the State Information Commission complaining about the inaction of the State Public Information Officer, instead of filing an appeal.
The remedies are concurrent and the mere fact that an appeal lies after the expiry of 30 days to the First Appellate Authority is no ground to hold that the State Information Commission cannot exercise the jurisdiction vested in it under Section 18 of the Act, before the first appeal is disposed off. I therefore overrule the petitioner's contention that the third respondent ought to have filed an appeal under Section 19 of the Act before the First Appellate Authority instead of straight away moving the State Information Commission.”Section 19(1) of the RTI Act states, "Any person who, does not receive a decision within the time specified in sub-section (1) or clause (a) of sub-section (3) of Section 7, or is aggrieved by a decision of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, may within thirty days from the expiry of such period or from the receipt of such a decision prefer an appeal to such officer who is senior in rank to the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer as the case may be, in each public authority” .The RTI Act states that SICs and CICs are entitled to entertain RTI applicants' complaints in case they do not receive an order within a stipulated time frame. Section 18(1)(c) RTI Act states: "Subject to the provisions of this Act, it shall be the duty of the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person who has not been given a response to a request for information or access to information within the time limit specified under this Act.”After submitting the complaint, the SIC and CIC will then investigate and take appropriate action. However, this is only when there is no reply received. In case reply is received and RTI applicant is not satisfied, then the RTI applicant will have to file first appeal.However, the petitioner cited reasons that he was too busy and therefore could not provide information on time. However, the court was not impressed with his stance and was critical of him for not adhering to the laws of the RTI Act.The court said, "After the Right to Information Act was enacted and brought into force, every government servant who is designated as the State Public Information Officer is bound to discharge the duty cast on him under the Act. He cannot decline to take any action on the requests under the Right to Information Act on the ground that he has other duties to attend to. As the State Public Information Officer, the petitioner has a duty to discharge his functions under the Right to Information Act also. Therefore the mere fact that there was pressure of work on the petitioner is not a ground to hold that he was not bound to furnish the information within the stipulated period of 30 days.”