The National Green Tribunal on Thursday got a rap on its knuckles for spending over Rs 30,000 in legal fee to defend its decision not to provide information to a citizen who paid the Rs 10 RTI fee in court stamps, and not a postal order.
The Central Information Commission said it was pathetic that the case to get the information had reached the commission, pointing that the unnecessary paperwork by the green tribunal that followed wasn’t just a waste of public funds but hurt the environment as well.
Citing government guidelines, the commission ruled that departments were free to provide information to RTI applicants even if the Rs 10 fee was not paid by the prescribed mode. “... It is clear that ‘fee’ is not material factor to throw out the RTI request,” the commission said.
Information commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu’s order came on an appeal by a West Bengal resident who had in March 2014 asked the tribunal for details about recruitment of multi-tasking staff at the environment watchdog.
Instead of a postal order, cash or bank draft, Alok Kumar Ghosh, submitted the RTI fee of Rs 10 by way of court stamp. Ghosh appealed to the CIC when he did not hear from the tribunal.
At the CIC hearing, the tribunal’s lawyer claimed the NGT had sent a letter by Speed Post to Ghosh asking him to pay the Rs 10 fee by the prescribed mode but could not produce evidence to back its claim.
Assuming this was true, Acharyulu wondered why the NGT first spent Rs 50 to ask for Rs 10 as fee rather than send the information, which anyway should have been uploaded on its website under proactive disclosures.
When the NGT argued that this would have led to audit objections, Acharyulu recalled the fee paid by NGT to its lawyers handling RTI appeals, the information commissioner said the case had cost the tribunal over Rs 33,000.
“Real auditor will not object this (giving information without the fee). In fact, audit will surely object this way of unmindful spending of huge amount for Rs 10,” he said.