The trend of government officials approaching the High Court against the Central Information Commission's (CIC) decision imposing fines on PIOs for delay in information to applicants under the RTI Act has started a debate amongst the RTI activists.
Activists said very few information commissioners have levied monetary fine on the Public Information Officers (PIOs), who do not comply with the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
And now the decisions of those who impose fine are being challenged in the court.
Two recent instances saw the Delhi High Court reduce the penalty imposed on the PIOs for not providing information on time.
In case of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) vs Atma Prakash Mehta case, justice S Muralidharan had reduced the penalty.
He ordered for the penalty on the MCD official to be reduced from Rs 18,500 to Rs 7,000, to be recovered from him in two equal installments of Rs 3,500 per month in view of the "facts and circumstances" of the case.
Gaurang Kant, the lawyer who represented Mehta, said, "The CIC had imposed the fine in excess by way of two orders against the same appeal."
In the RA Haritash vs Anand Bhushan case, the Delhi High Court took it on record that the information was ultimately
provided on March 27, 2010, when the application under RTI was originally filed on November 4, 2009.
The PIO claimed he had joined on November 18, 2009, 14 days after the RTI application was filed.
The HC ordered reduction of the penalty from Rs 25,000 (to be recovered from the official's salary) to just Rs 2,500 (to be recovered from his salary in 10 installments).
Vibhav Kumar, an activist-member of NGO Kabir, said, "Overall it seems that the judiciary is working to weaken the RTI Act. Orders like this wherein penalty amount is reduced will encourage more PIOs to not give information on time."
However, RTI activist Lokesh Batra, points out another aspect.
"Only if the Honourable High Court is convinced by the PIO that the delay was beyond his control for a certain period, then the Court is justified in reducing the penalty."
"However, even if the penalty has been reduced, the High Court has held the PIO guilty of delay and thus upheld the CIC decision."