Information commissioner Surinder Awasthi, part of a full bench of the state information commission, Punjab, has pulled up a top state government officer — secretary, housing and urban development, A Venu Prasad — for delaying information, questioning the information seeker’s credentials, and referring to translation of the information into state language Punjabi as “creation of information”.
He observed that the attitude of the public information officer (PIO) towards the information seeker was “preposterous and unwarranted”. Interestingly, Prasad himself acted as the PIO instead of designating one.
The other two commissioners on the bench, Harinder Pal Singh Mann and Narinderjit Singh, had inferred that no delay was caused in giving information and had also dropped the showcause notice issued earlier against Prasad. They also refused to accept the view taken by Awasthi.
Through a Right To Information (RTI) application filed on September 23, 2013, Naib Kaur had asked the department to explain whether the oustee policy was applicable to her or not, and had sought Punjabi translation of a portion of the policy. Instead of giving information within 30 days as mandated in the RTI Act, it was given on February 2, 2014, but not in Punjabi.
Calling it “startling”, Awasthi also brought on record that the PIO later took four months to get translated 150 words of information into Punjabi despite it being the state’s official language. “It is a strange pace and efficiency of the government,” he observed.
‘PIO resorted to insinuations’
Making his observation on an affidavit filed by the PIO on August 7, 2014, calling the information seeker “a pawn in the hands of unscrupulous property dealers”, the information commissioner said, “…the deemed PIO has resorted to insinuations and attributed motives without realising that all citizens have the right to information and even hardcore criminals have sought information under the act.”
“…on the contrary, many state governments are accused of acting as mafias or at their behest to dispossess poor farmers of their land… the policy related to farmers is formulated in a language which farmers do not understand and when some affected farmer sought its Punjabi translation, she was dubbed to be playing into the hands of property dealers,” added the observation recorded on November 18.
Contradicting the PIO’s claim in the affidavit, the information commissioner said that the translation of a government policy into the state’s official language didn’t amount to the creation of information.
“If the government failed to provide information in the state’s official language on the pretext that it is not available, it would defeat the act’s purpose,” said Awasthi, referring to Section 7(9) of the act which says that “information be provided in the form in which sought, unless it would disproportionately divert resources of the public authority or be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question.”
“One can understand the odds of the department concerned if the information seeker had sought information in Spanish or Latin,” Awasthi further observed. He also recommended fine up to Rs 25,000 (Rs 250 per day) for the delay in giving information.