If Maharashtra’s Chief SIC Dr Suresh Joshi has his way tomorrow (Monday, 5th October ‘09), public authorities everywhere will celebrate. Because Dr Joshi will formalize his invention of a new reason for denying information, called “Logistical Nightmare”. Citing this exemption clause will enable PIOs to DENY EVEN INSPECTION OF FILES — even if the information requested is not at all voluminous and is easily accessible, and even if it does not ACTUALLY create logistical difficulties! Public authorities will be enabled to plead that if they give you information, they ANTICIPATE that other citizens may overwhelm the system with similar requests, thereby causing “logistical nightmare”. Citizens, be warned: THIS FEAR OR APPREHENSION WILL BE UPHELD AS A REASON TO DENY INFORMATION IN ANY FORM.
Tomorrow morning, Dr Joshi has called a meeting with the Secretary of Education and other senior officials (which, by the way, we are not invited to attend). After that, he will pass an Order in the case of some SSC students and their guardians who asked for inspection of their answer sheets. Unless Dr Joshi has a sudden change of heart, “logistical nightmare” will be the reason for denial.
Please don’t search in Section 8, 9, etc; nowhere is such an exemption clause to be found in the RTI Act. In fact, even the public authority viz. SSC Board Maharashtra Mumbai Division, has made no such plea. The SSC Board has sought to justify denial under Section 8(1)(e) “fiduciary relationship” and Section 8(1)(j) “personal information that has no relationship with public activity or interest”. It also cited its own internal rules.
Dr Joshi did not uphold these reasons for denial. Instead, he went ahead and created his own: What will happen if lakhs of students overwhelm the system with similar requests and RTI Applications? Never mind that this fear has not come true with other State Boards of comparable size such as Gujarat, AP and Goa, which are successfully giving inspection of answer sheets to thousands of students every year. Even Mumbai, Pune and Shivaji (Kolhapur) Universities are allowing inspection year after year. Nonetheless, Dr Joshi fears that Maharashtra SSC Board would be swamped with requests and unable to cope!
Section 19(5) and 20(1) clearly state that onus is on the PIO to justify grounds for denial. The powers of Information Commissioners (exhaustively defined in Section 18 and 19) do not include the power to authorize denial of information on fresh grounds that are not present in the PIO’s justification. But such minor details are unlikely to prevent Dr Suresh Joshi from inventing this brand-new exemption clause.
You see, Dr Suresh Joshi, in his great compassion for bureaucrats and government employees, is willing to go beyond the call of his duty as Chief State Information Commissioner. His wisdom and great learning will enable him to effortlessly overrule the collective wisdom of Indian Parliament that enacted RTI Act in 2005.
DOWNLOAD SSC Board’s Grounds of Denial, Detailed Rebuttal by RTI Applicant Samir Kanparia, Relevant Court Orders, Press Coverage etc : http://www.box.net/shared/cqo4f4eald