Health Ministry boss ‘warns’ babu for delayed RTI replies, activists hail step

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In a significant development, a senior officer of the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), New Delhi, has ‘pulled up’ a Chief Public Information Officer for not providing clear or timely replies to RTI queries, activists said.

The MoHFW’s Director (Public Health) and 1st Appellate Authority Govind Jaiswal issued a ‘warning’ to the CPIO Dr. K.R. Yogesh, for repeatedly delaying submitting replies to a Pune businessman Prafful Sarda’s RTI queries on certain issues.

The MoHFW Director’s move has been applauded by the likes of India’s first RTI activist who was appointed a Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi (2009-2012) or banking industry crusader Vishwas Utagi.

“I had submitted a RTI query on (15/03/2022) whether it was mandatory to wear face-masks during Covid 19 during the first-second waves, is it compulsory even after full vaccination and whether any government authority could slap fines for not wearing masks, etc. It remained unanswered, so I sent at least seven reminders, and called up 20 times on the CPIO’s landline number which turned out to be dead,” Sarda told IANS.

Finally, when Sarda’s matter reached the 1st Appellate Authority Jaiswal (IAS), who not only disposed of it promptly but also reprimanded the CPIO for the lapses.

“I have warned the CPIO to clear and concise response in time bound manner as per information available in records of DM (Disaster Management) Cell,” Jaiswal stated in the reply to Sarda.

It was also conveyed (to Dr. Yogesh) that under the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, only such information as is available and existing and held by the public authority or is under the control of the public authority can be provided.

Jaiswal’s move has been hailed by the army of RTI activists active all over India diligently seeking information on different issues from various local, city, state, central governments.

Former CIC Gandhi said that Jaiswal’s move “deserves to be applauded” and urged more such officers to regularly keep pulling up the PIOs for their shortcomings.

“I won’t say this is unique or common… In the past, maybe 2 or 3 per cent of the top officers used to reprimand their junior PIOs for such delays. That’s the right thing to do and the Appellate Authorities must do this, hold them responsible as it will relatively unburden the Information Commissions,” Gandhi said.

“Many times, particularly in the past eight years, the bureaucracy stonewalls queries under RTI, they delay, or force the activists to go in for appeals, and by that time it may lose relevance,” said RTI Activists Forum Convenor Vishwas Utagi.

He termed Jaiswal’s move to pull the ears of the CPIO as “timely and necessary” and would send a message to PIOs across India to do their duties sincerely and honestly.

Gandhi adds that “most officers do their job honestly but are never acknowledged”, and called upon the people to hail such officials at least once in a while.

Utagi said he plans to write to the Prime Minister to modify the RTI rules and ensure that all officers must compulsorily clear all RTI queries on their table before the 30-day stipulated deadlines, as “it is the democratic right of the people, and the officer is duty-bound to do it”.

Sarda said that a handful of PIOs/CPIOs of certain departments are very prompt and send proper, satisfactory replies well within the deadline.

“However, many others, especially the I-T, NCB, Police, RBI, Defence and Home, just don’t bother and issue unsatisfactory template responses… Hopefully, this ‘warning’ may warn such other lethargic PIOs/CPIOs and make them more efficient,” said Sarda.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in)

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