The Right to Information Act was intended to curb corruption. But it seems there have been occasions when it has been misused to promote corruption, according to watchdog body Central Information Commission.
The commission observed in a recent order that there have been cases where it suspected that government officials, to avoid paying penalties, had bribed RTI applicants to withdraw their complaints.
Information Commissioner OP Kejriwal made the observation while hearing a complaint against the Regional Passport Office, Delhi. He suspected the complainant Sunder Lal was induced to change his stance.
"The commission in such cases, becomes an indirect party for promoting corruption -- the very phenomenon the RTI Act and the commission are supposed to curb and contain," Kejriwal said in his order on May 18.
In July 2006, Lal had sought a reply to 12 queries from the passport office under the RTI Act. The Act stipulates that the information has to be given within 30 days. Lal filed a complaint in January 2007 saying he had not heard from the passport office.
But when the commission started hearing his case on May 15, Lal said he had received the information within the deadline. Kejriwal suspected a deal and asked Lal for documentary proof. Lal replied that the information had been provided verbally. "The cat is out of the bag," Kejriwal said in his order.
"It is clear that there has been a tacit understanding between the two parties based on some kind of gratification," Kejriwal said. He noted that both parties had gained: one got the money and the other escaped paying a fine, which could be up to Rs 25,000.
Later, Lal admitted before the commission that he got no information from the passport office. The Passport Officer Gloria Kumar had no answer when asked to explain the reasons for the delay in providing the information.