There can be a new independent entrant to track missing coal files — transparency watchdog, the Central Information Commission (CIC).
The Delhi High Court has upheld the powers of the commission to conduct an inquiry by itself or ask the concerned department to track the missing files under the Right To Information Act. Or, fix the responsibility of the officers responsible for the files that go missing.
The order can have a wider ramifications in light of the government claiming files on controversial issues often going missing including in the recent coal scam.
“It is not uncommon in the government departments to evade disclosure of the information taking the standard plea that the information sought by the applicant was not available,” the court said, while describing the RTI Act as a “progressive” legislation with an intent to give maximum possible information to people with certain safeguards and exemptions.
The court said that in cases where the information sought could not be traced, appropriate departmental action should be taken against the officials responsible and accountability should be fixed. “Unless such a course is adopted, it would be possible for any department to deny information which otherwise is not exempted from disclosure,” the court said.
The court made these observations while dismissing the tourism ministry’s plea against the CIC order asking the ministry to conduct an inquiry into missing files.
The ministry had gone to the High Court claiming that the CIC had no powers under the RTI Act to direct the government to conduct an inquiry.
Rejecting the claim, the court said since the commission has powers to direct disclosure of information it would also have jurisdiction to direct an inquiry into the matter wherever the public information officer claims that the file was untraceable.
“Even in a case where the information officer claims that the information was never available with the government the commission can direct an officer in the department to look into the matter again,” the court said.