The Public Information Officers’ delay in providing details that people seek under the Right to Information Act seems to be costing the officials dear for more and more applicants are now approaching the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forums (DCDRF), seeking compensation for ‘deficiency in service’.
At least 130 RTI applicants in the state have moved the forum, seeking compensation from the PIOs concerned, citing delay in giving the required information within the stipulated time frame of 30 days.
The consumer forums started penalising the PIOs following the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission’s order in 2009 that an RTI applicant could be termed as a consumer and the applicant could seek a remedy under the Consumer Protection Act in cases where the information was delayed or denied.
A consumer forum in Tirunelveli held the PIO of Vellichanthai panchayat in Kanyakumari accountable to pay a compensation of Rs 15,000 and Rs 3,000 for the cost of litigation to the RTI applicant A. K. Thileepan in an order dated July 3.
A forum in North Chennai on May 22 had directed the PIO of Chennai corporation to pay Rs 5,000 as compensation and Rs 2,000 towards litigation cost to RTI activist V. Gopalakrishnan for the denial of information.
The consumer forums, ordering the PIO to pay compensation to the RTI applicant, may be regarded as a warning for other officials who dilly-dally over the application without replying, Gopalakrishnan told DC.
“There is no need for us to approach the consumer forum if the State Information Commission had invoked the provision in the RTI Act, which allows imposition of a fine to a maximum of Rs 25,000 on PIOs for unreasonable delay in providing information,” he said.
T. Sadagopan, co-ordinator of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Consumer Centre, said that most of the cases were filed against the PIOs of the revenue department, TNEB and PWD in the consumer court for not providing information. “Even nine years after the passage of the RTI Act, many PIOs were not aware of its rules in providing timely replies.
They should be given periodic training,” he said. When asked for his opinion on the increasing trend of PIOs being penalised by the consumer forums, state Chief Information Commissioner K. S. Sripathi told DC that he couldn’t comment on the orders passed by another quasi-judicial forum.