RTI: Five-year jail Term for ‘No File’ Response

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Thiruvananthapuram: In a major sprucing up act, the Kerala government issued a circular asking public information officers not to reject RTI applications unless the file is officially destroyed and keep a file retention schedule.

The circular issued by Mr P.S. Gopakumar, special secretary to the government, has urged all public sector units and autonomous institutions to formulate a record retention schedule and ensure that the records are destroyed only in accordance with such stipulation and also publish the same on the official website of public authorities.

Officers who deny information citing non-availability of files will be sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment, the circular said.

The circular was issued pursuant to a Central Information Commission directive to declare that the missing or the untraceability of the file containing the information sought for cannot be deemed as a valid exemption by the RTI Act.

The commission asked the state to issue such a circular after the Delhi High Court held that rejecting files in the guise of ‘missing file’ tended to discourage the very objective of the RTI Act.

As per the latest circular, those who violate the norm would be punishable with imprisonment up to five years or with fine or both. Unless proved that the record was destroyed as per the prescribed rules of destruction/retention policy, it is deemed that the record continues to be held by the public authority.

Most of the applications sent to the government offices are returned with a blank reply citing the absence of the relevant file. Thousands of such applications seeking information on controversial issues have been sent back without a proper answer in this manner.

However, the new circular of the General Administration Department stated henceforth the officials who return applications without proper reason and say that the file is missing will be sentenced to five years in jail and fine.

If the file has been destroyed as per the rules the related official should be able to prove it. If not proved legal actions will be initiated against the concerned official on the basis of the assumption that the file is with him, the circular said.

RTI activists hope to see an end to the phenomenon of files missing from the State government offices when the circular takes effect.

(report first appeared with Malayala Manorama)

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