Uphold RTI spirit; ensure appointment of SPIO, FAA in all government departments: MIC reminds CS
The Manipur Information Commission expressed discontentment on the conduct of Manipur Police Department for not performing their bounden duties to designate any public authority in the Department as the State Public Information Officer (SPIO).
The Manipur Information Commission has sent a reminder to the chief secretary to ensure that all government departments appoint a State Public Information Officer (SPIO) as well as a senior officer as the First Appellate Authority (FAA) in adherence to the RTI Act, 2005.
The development followed after the commission heard an appeal of Thokchom Suraj, of Kwakeithel Tiddim Ground, who filed an RTI application on October 19, 2019 to the SPIO/ Special Secretary (Home), Government of Manipur, seeking information on 12 points in connection with the departmental promotion of Sub-Inspector to the post of Inspectors, Manipur Police held in 2017 and 2019.
Earlier, the SPIO/ Home did not furnish any information to the appellant within the mandated period of 30 days. Being aggrieved by the action of SPIO/ Home, he filed first appeal on November 25, 2019 to the FAA/ Commissioner (Home), government of Manipur.
The FAA/ Home also did not furnish any information to the appellant within the stipulated time as provided under the said Act.
Lastly, he filed a second appeal on January 8, 2020 before the Commission under Section 19 (3) of the RTI Act, 2005, as a last resort.
During the hearing on October 16, 2020, the Commission directed the SPIO/ Home to bring/ place the related files, which dealt with the Home Department in connection with the DPC for promotion of Sub-Inspector (Male/ Civil) to Inspector (Male/ Civil), Manipur Police conducted in association with the Manipur Public Service Commission (MPSC) in 2019.
On the day of hearing on November 5, 2020, the representative of the Home Department placed before the Commission a file relating to the DPC for promotion of Sub-Inspector (Male/ Civil) to Inspector (Male/ Civil), Manipur Police, conducted in association with the MPSC in 2019.
After studying the file with respect to the sought RTI queries, the representative of the appellant stated that the information for the queries 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of his RTI application are not found in the said file produced/ placed by the Home Department.
During the hearing on November 25, 2020, he stated that with respect to query No. 8, the awarding of marks/ points to the candidates were different for the year 2019 and 2017. He desired to know on what basis the concerned public authorities framed the rules for grading/ markings at the time of the DPCs. On the other hand, the Home department and the Manipur Police reported that the required information may be sought from the MPSC because the said DPC was conducted in association with the MPSC. The representative of SPIO/ MPSC stated that there was no such information with them as the rules were framed by the Home Department.
The Commission observed that the present case has been lingering for long and the public authorities have different versions on the subject of request. As such, the Commission directs the SPIO/ MPSC to appear before the Commission with all the relevant files of the DPCs for promotion of Sub-Inspector (Male/ Civil) to Inspector (Male/ Civil) in the Police Department for the year 2017 and 2019.
On the day of hearing on January 13, 2021, the representative of the SPIO/ MPSC placed two files for inspection as per the decision of the Commission (dated November 25, 2020) with reference to the DPC for promotion of Sub-Inspector to the post of Inspector (Male/ Civil) in the Police Department. The two files were examined by both the parties before the Commission. Thereafter, the appellant pointed out a document in the first file, Standing Order No. 97 issued by the Police Department, Government of Manipur on June 12, 1987, in connection with the DPC held in 2017, which is a subject of the RTI query No. 4. However, on checking the 2nd file there was no copy of the Standing Order for the said DPC for promotion of Sub-Inspector (Male/ Civil) to the post of Inspector (Male/ Civil), Manipur Police held in 2019, which is related with the query No. 3 & 8 of the RTI application.
The representative of the appellant prayed the Commission that he wanted to obtain a copy of the Standing Order of 1987 issued by the Police Department, which was applicable at the DPC for promotion of Sub-Inspector (Male/ Civil) to Inspector (Male/ Civil) Manipur Police held in 2017. He also demanded to know which Standing Order was used by the Home Department and Manipur Police for the DPC held in 2019.
Meanwhile, the representative of the public authority (MPSC) handed over a copy of the said Standing Order related to query No. 4 of the RTI application with due authentication to the appellant during the day of record inspection as per the direction of the Commission.
The Commission observed that both the SPIO/ Home and the public authority, Manipur Police, as well as the SPIO/ MPSC should be held responsible for not producing any Standing Order copy, which is related to RTI query No. 3 & 8 with reference to the DPC held in 2019. The Commission directed the appellant to file a written rejoinder if he has any issues after the joint inspection of the said two files.
During the hearing on February 25, 2021, the SAPIO/ Manipur Police submitted a letter dated February 9, 2021 along with a copy of the Manipur Gazette notification dated May 19, 2014.
According to the Gazette notification, the DPCs enjoy full discretion to devise its own methods and procedure for objective assessment of the suitability of the candidates who are to be considered by them. In the said letter, the public authority, Manipur Police clarified that the Standing Order No. 97 is not a guideline issued for promotion of Sub-Inspector to Inspector. The Standing order No. 97 is specifically for promotion up to the rank of Sub-Inspector and not relevant to the promotion of Inspector, 2019, he argued. The letter further stated that the DPCs conducted by MPSC for promotion of Sub-Inspector (Male/ Civil) to Inspector of Police (Male/ Civil) in Manipur Police Department in 2017 and 2019 had devised its own method and procedure for objective assessment of the suitability of the candidates as per the provision of the said Gazette notification. Lastly, he prayed before the Commission that due to the other official duties, this information could not be furnished timely to the appellant and the delay is regretted. The Commission also handed over a set of the said documents to the appellant.
In this connection, the appellant filed a rejoinder on March 1, 2021 before the Commission with copy endorsed to the public authority, Manipur Police. In the said rejoinder, the appellant submitted that he was not pleased with the information provided at the belated stage by the public authority, Manipur Police. He also pressed the Commission to initiate penal action under Section 20 (2) of the RTI Act, 2005 against the concerned public authority (Manipur Police) for not providing the said information during the joint inspection of files of the MPSC and the Home Department. He alleged the public authority, Manipur Police of giving misleading information. He further stated that the Gazette Notification dated May 19, 2014 cannot cover the said DPC conducted by the MPSC because the MPSC is a separate Constitutional body.
Upon hearing from all the parties and after going through the case records, the Commission observed that the main objective of the RTI Act, 2005 is to provide information to the citizens and to bring transparency and accountability in the functioning of the Government.
Under the RTI Act, 2005, the Commission has no extraordinary power to interpret the constitutionality of a gazette notification, whether it is applicable only in the public authority run by the Government of Manipur or the MPSC, which is a constitutional body.
The Commission has no jurisdiction to judge the marking system of a DPC conducted by the MPSC in association with the Manipur Police and the Home Department.
The Commission, under the RTI Act, 2005, has no right to interfere in evaluating the President’s Police medal for gallantry, Manipur Chief Minister’s medal for gallantry, Manipur Chief Minister’s medals for outstanding service and good service marks, etc.
In case of the demand for penal action under section 20 (2) of the RTI Act, 2005, the public authority, Manipur Police had already given reasonable apology verbally and also in writing with a remark regretting the delay in providing the information in the belated stage of hearing due to other official duties of the public authority, Manipur Police, the Commission added.
The Commission, however, expressed discontentment on the conduct of Manipur Police Department for not performing their bounden duties to designate any public authority in the Department as the State Public Information Officer (SPIO) as well as a senior officer as the First Appellate Authority (FAA) despite the direction given by this Commission on February 3, 2020 in another appeal case no. 53 of 2019 filed by the same appellant.
The Commission further observed that prolonged hearing in this present case is due to the absence of a full-fledged SPIO in the Police Department although the Manipur Police Department has designated one State Assistant Public Information Officer, (SAPIO).
Even though the Department of Personnel & Administrative Reforms (Administrative Reforms Division), Govt of Manipur, has notified on May 28, 2011, the exemption of the Manipur Police Department from the purview of the RTI Act, 2005, in exercise of the powers conferred by Sub-section (4) of Section 24 of the RTI Act, 2005, the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded by the above exemption, it said. “The Police Department has to furnish information as raised by the citizen(s) on the allegations of corruption and Human Rights violation”, it said.
Accordingly, the Commission invoked section 19 (8) (a) (ii) of the RTI Act, 2005, and appointed the present SAPIO/ SP, DG Control Room as the new SPIO of the Police Department. “This arrangement will continue till the Police Department appoints its regular SPIO. The Commission further advised the DGP, Manipur Police to allow either ADGP (RTI) or IGP (RTI) to function as FAA of the Manipur Police Department”, it said.
The Commission is of the view that successive Chief Secretaries, despite holding the charge of Home Department, had turned a blind eye on the absence of a regular SPIO in the Police Department. “Such behaviour and attitude would defeat the very aim and spirit of the RTI, 2005 enacted by the parliament to bring transparency and accountability in governance”, it directed.
With the above direction, the Commission advised the appellant to approach a higher court for the issues raised by him in his written rejoinder and the appeal case was closed.