The Telegraph, 29th June,2008
RTI guardians under scanner
- Governor to quiz 2 info officers over hefty compensation SUMAN K. SHRIVASTAVA
Ranchi, June 28: Two state information commissioners are under the Jharkhand Governor’s scrutiny for awarding huge compensations to individuals denied information under the sunshine law.
Syed Sibtey Razi’s office will soon question Shristidhar Mahto and Gangotri Kujur, both of whom had ordered compensation to the tune of Rs 60 lakh to be paid to RTI applicants in different cases. The Raj Bhavan believes the amount is too high to qualify under Section 19 (8) (b) of the Right to Information Act (see box) that limits individual compensation to the costs and expenses incurred to file an RTI application.
In his order, Mahto directed the forest department to pay a compensation of Rs 56 lakh to one Sangram Singh Deo of Kera village in West Singhbhum. He also slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 on divisional forest officer B.P. Sinha for “wilfully denying information” and “misleading the commission”.
“A soft approach to the DFO’s action will give rise to indiscipline among the public servants and lead to anarchy in the state,” the commissioner concluded after noting that seven hearings were conducted from May 18, 2007, when the appeal was filed.
The Governor’s office has also sounded out Kujur, asking her to explain under what circumstances she ordered Ranchi University to pay Rs 4 lakh compensation to two teachers — P.N. Pandey and Amitabh Hor — who invoked RTI to challenge the promotion of a colleague.
Former advocate-general Anil Kumar Sinha pointed out the panel could order the public authority to compensate a petitioner to the extent of losses/costs incurred for getting information — like lawyer’s expenses, conveyance. “The commission cannot act as a compensation court, which awards compensation to a land loser.”
A compensation court is presided over by a sub-judge and is specially constituted and empowered by the high court.
Deo had sought details of compensation awarded to his late father, Devendra Narayan Singh, after 10,639.19 acres of his forest land in Kera was taken over by the state under the Bihar Zamindari Act.
The DFO, who was the designated public information officer, first sought time on the ground that “very old records” had to be searched. Thereafter, he passed on the query to the Chaibasa deputy commissioner saying he would be the best person to provide the information.
Sensing that the mood was that of dithering, Mahto ordered compensation to be paid (Rs 56 lakh) and also slapped a fine (Rs 25,000) on the DFO.
“The Raj Bhavan will soon ask him (Mehta) under what circumstances he passed the order for such a huge compensation,” an official spokesman said.
Significantly, Mahto passed orders under Section 20 (1) of the RTI act which provides for imposing a maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 for “malafidely denying the request for information”.
The provision of compensation is provided under Section 19 (8-B) of the RTI act.
The Governor, said the spokesman, was empowered to take action and even remove information commissioners under Section 17 of the RTI act.
“The Governor could refer the charges against information commissioners to the Supreme Court. Based on its report, he could very well remove them. They could be put under suspension till the enquiry is pending,” the spokesman pointed out.