You want information, right?
So you exercise your democratic due and file an application under the Right to Information (RTI).
And then your question is swallowed by the blank spaces of government registers.
Two Labour Department officers were pulled up by the Central Information Commission (CIC) for precisely one such disappearing act.
Mohammad Farruddin, a trade union leader, had sought information from the Labour Department.
When Farruddin did not get the answer to his query, he approached the CIC, the body constituted to address complaints
regarding the RTI.
CIC officials went through the dispatch registers of the office and found the information had been marked as sent.
But Farruddin had clearly not received any information. Where then was the answer?
The solution to this puzzle lay in 13 lines which the CIC officials found left blank in another register.
It was then CIC connected the dots and realised the officials in-charge had been leaving space for backdated entries in the register. (see box)
“The findings reveal a systematically designed process to ensure backdating of documents,” said Shailesh Gandhi, CIC commissioner. "Such a practice evidences intentional dishonesty on the part of the concerned public officials," said
Gandhi, in an order last week.
Farruddin had filed an appeal with the Labour department's appellate authority, which asked the public information officers V.S. Arya and Suhash Chandra, to provide the information.
Farruddin checked with the local post office about mail from the department after the officials told him the information
had been sent.
He filed a second appeal with the CIC, which issued a notice to the department's information officers.
Farruddin then received only part of the information sought.
Gandhi then decided to conduct an inquiry and made the shocking findings.
“The commission had the opportunity to peruse only some pages of one register from 2007-08 and even within that limited time, it came across thirteen blank lines. It is likely this insidious practice must not be restricted to just one register,” Gandhi observed in his order.
The CIC imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on each of the two officials and asked the Delhi chief secretary to initiate disciplinary action against them and recover the fine immediately.
Many RTI activists have complained to CIC of not receiving information, despite information officers' claims that they were sent. “In most cases, one has to collect information personally as dispatches from government offices don't reach," said RTI activist S.C. Aggarwal.