In a strong message to all public information officers (PIOs) across the state, Suresh Joshi, the state’s Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) slapped a penalty of Rs24,750 on the PIO of the Mumbai University Institute of Chemical Technology (MUICT) for delaying information to a blind complainant under the Right to Information Act (RTI).

The said amount, which will be deposited with the government, was arrived at by imposing a penalty at a rate of Rs 250 per day for the 99-day delay. The CIC has directed the registrar of MUICT to recover the same in two installments from the salary paid to the PIO in the next two months and submit a compliance report to the state information commission by October 15, 2007.

Ambernath resident Balwant Joshi, a blind complainant, had filed an RTI application in May, 2005, in the MUICT asking for list of candidates admitted for the post graduate M Pharm course for year 2005-’06. Joshi wanted details of cancellation and subsequent refund of fees from the PIO and Director of MUICT.

Frustrated with lack of response from the PIO, a hearing was held in the state commission in February this year in presence of K E Pillai, assistant registrar, MUICT, Joshi and the former’s advocate Sagar Talekar. Balwant Joshi’s son Abhijeet had paid Rs 16,280 for the M Pharm course entrance exam fees in 2005.

At the time of admission, it was given to understand that fees would be refunded by deducting 10 per cent of the total if the admission is cancelled.

Though Abhijeet topped the exam, he chose to go to Mohali-based National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research for post-graduation. Though Joshi cancelled his son’s admission in MUICT within 30 days, he was denied refund on the grounds of a circular made in 1996.

The CIC observed how complainant had visited the MUICT authorities at least 40 times before he moved the RTI application. “Even after application and first appeal, the authorities failed to respond to Joshi, who deserved all consideration,” he observed.

A jubilant Joshi told DNA, “Government institutes delay the results of entrance exams, forcing anxious students with average marks to seek admission in private colleges who charge exorbitant fees. Subsequently, those seeking cancellation of admissions in government colleges are denied refund. This nexus needs to be exposed,” he said. Joshi has also filed a case in the consumer court against MUICT.

DNA - Mumbai - Blind RTI applicant snub proves costly - Daily News & Analysis