Even as the legal validity of Tamil Nadu State Information Commissioner S. Muthuraj’s recommendation – to send nine IAS officers on compulsory retirement for dereliction of duty – is questioned, it will surely sound alarm bells ringing in the minds of all public information officials (PIO) who dilly-dally on details sought under the Right to Information Act, said activists.
“The recommendation is appreciated. It is an eye opener as to whether an Information Commissioner can make such a recommendation,” Senthil Arumugham, General Secretary, Satta Panchayat Iyyakkam told IANS.
Recently, the Tamil Nadu Information Commission had recommended to the state Chief Secretary to take legal action to compulsorly retire nine IAS officers – Surjith K. Chaudry, Vibhu Nayar, Kakarla Usha, D. Jagannathan, K. Srinivasan, K. Nandakumar, S. Jayandhi, N. Venkatesh and G. Latha- for dereliction of duty while heading the Teachers Recruitment Board as its Chairman between June 2011 and October 2020.
“The order is a warning to all the PIOs and others that if they don’t respond to RTI queries properly then there will be disciplinary action,” Jayaram Venkatasan, Convenor, Arappor Iyyakam told IANS.
Citing various provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Muthuraj, the State Information Commissioner had also recommended to the state Chief Secretary to register in the annual confidential reports of the nine IAS officers that they failed in ensuring transparency and accountability during their tenure at the Teachers Recruitment Board.
Candidates who had appeared in the competitive exam held for recruiting the teachers had approached the Commission stating that despite marking the right answers for the questions, they were marked wrong, thereby, they failed to get the job.
In his order Muthuraj said despite various orders issued earlier by the Commission on such complaints the issue of publication of ‘Wrong Key’ for questions continues which shows that the senior officials of Teachers Recruitment Board had functioned irresponsibly.
The Tamil Nadu Information Commission ordered: (a) appointment of Chairman, Teachers Recruitment Board as the Public Information Officer and provide all details sought by the applicants within 20 days of the order and (b) take action against those who had prepared the questions and the answer key for the competitive exam.
While apprecating the Tamil Nadu Information Commission for its order, Arumugam of Satta Panchayat urged the former to ensure that all public offices voluntarily declare various details on their own as per Section 4 of the RTI Act.
Arumugam also said the Commission should enable people to apply for information online.
“In Tamil Nadu one has to seek information in the traditional mode-by filing a written application,” Arumugam said.
According to him, the Commission can start being transparent about its functioning itself by uploading the pending case details and their years of pendency.
Arumugam said it takes couple of years for the Commission to decide on appeals.
“Information delayed is information denied. Many a times, a delayed information turns out to be useless for an applicant. There is no timeline for the Commission to decide on the cases that come to it,” Arappor Iyyakam’s Venkatesan said.
“Even after the issuance of a show cause notice the Commission does not act fast against the delinquent public information official,” Venkatesan said.
Jayaram also said the law makers should deliberate on the annual reports of the Tamil Nadu Information Commission which is laid on the table of the House.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)