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Unconstitutional? Gujarat information commissioner bars 3 from filing RTI pleas

By Pankti Jog* 

In a surprise move, Gujarat’s Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) has superseded the Right to Information (RTI) Act, asking a public authority not to accept any RTI applications from three citizens for five years. CIC, Gujarat, DP Thakar, issued an order at a scheduled hearing regarding complaint filed by Chintanbhai, Bharatiben and Dilhariben, banning them from making RTI applications for seeking information for five years.
Issued on January 5, 2021, the order claims the ban has been imposed because the applicants had repeatedly used RTI to pressurize government officials. The order tells the primary health centre (PHC) public information officer (PIO), Jesar, and the chief district health officer (CDHO) Bhavnagar, (appellate authority) not to accept or entertain any RTI plea or appeal for the three citizens from the date the order was issued for the next five years.
This is the first time in RTI’s history in India when an information commissioner has banned any citizen from seeking information from a public authority. As per the RTI Act, an information commissioner has power to only impose penalty or recommend departmental inquiry against a PIO if PIO fails to furnish information. But there is no provision in the Act which bans a citizen from using RTI to seek information.
The order is unconstitutional, as the RTI Act has been passed by Parliament, and under the law, there is no power with any state or Central information commissioner to prevent any citizens from filing RTI or to ask any public authority not to implement the law. The CIC, Gujarat, has misinterpreted a Delhi High Court order, which he has quoted in order to deny a citizen’s lawful right of seeking information. There is nothing in the High Court order justifying such a move. 
DP Thakar
In the order on Shail Sahni vs Sanjeev Kumar and Ors, dated February 5, 2014, Justice Manmohan merely observed, "This Court is of the view that misuse of the RTI Act has to be appropriately dealt with, otherwise the public would lose faith and confidence in this 'sunshine Act. A beneficent Statute, when made a tool for mischief and abuse must be checked in accordance with law."
The Gujarat CIC’s order will give free hand to deny information to public authorities in the state. The RTI helpline (9924085000), run by the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), has been receiving calls over the last few months, wherein citizens have been complaining that they are being threatened by officials of the State Information Commission not to make repeated RTI pleas or appeals, or else they would be banned from using the RTI Act.
The RTI Act has no provisions to prevent citizen from filing RTI or making an appeal with a public authority. As Gujarat CIC’s order is unconstitutional, MAGP has appealed to the Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) to immediately withdraw it. The order reveals incompetence on the part of those handling GIC in interpreting the RTI Act, as also ignorance about the Act. The Gujarat CIC is incompetent in fulfilling the responsibility given by the Act.
Such an approach of GIC will not only mislead public authorities for denying information but will also make RTI ineffective. If a citizen violates a law, the state is competent enough to take action against her or him under appropriate legal provisionis. But the commission cannot prevent implementation of the RTI Act passed by Parliament by merely citing an incident.
Parliament of the country, through the RTI Act, has sought to protect and enhance citizens’ right to seek information and making governance transparent. MAGP expects that GIC would proactively fulfill its responsibility.
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*Executive secretary, Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Gujarat

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