public official who deliberately delays or obstructs an application
for information, or who deliberately provide incorrect or misleading
information can be punished under the Central Act. Penalties have
been included in RTI laws by legislators because they recognise
that some sanction might be necessary to change bureaucratic cultures
of secrecy, particularly where these have served to cover up corruption.
Notably though, sanctions cannot be imposed on public officials
who did their best to process applications and provide information
in the spirit of the law.
It is important to note that the penalty provisions under the Central
Act can be imposed personally on the official responsible for non-compliance
with the Act. You should be aware that penalties can not only be
imposed on the Public Information Officer (PIO) responsible for
managing applications, but also on any officer whose assistance
they requested, if that officer did not help them. Thus, if the
PIO asked another officer to provide them with a file and that officer
refused or delayed unreasonably, that officer and not the PIO will
20(1) of the Central Act allows for the imposition of penalties.
Most notably, where a PIO has, without any reasonable cause:
- refused to receive an application;
- not furnished information within time limits;
- malafidely denied the request;
- knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading
- destroyed information subject to a request;or
- obstructed the process,
Commission can impose a penalty of Rs 250 per day. The total
penalty cannot exceed Rs 25,000.
Section 20(1) of the Central Act states that "Public Information Officers" can be penalised, but when read with s.5(5) of the Central Act (which states that any officer whose assistance is sought by a PIO will be treated as a PIO for purposes of the Act's penalty clauses) it is clear that in practice any official can be sanctioned for non-compliance if they have shirked their duties under the law.
a penalty is imposed under s.20(1) of the Central Act however, an
official must be given a reasonably opportunity of being heard.
The official is responsible for providing that he/she acted reasonable
section 20(2) of the Central Act, where a monetary penalty is imposed,
the Information Commission can also recommend disciplinary action
against the PIO under the applicable service rules.
can usually be imposed by appeal bodies, whether or not they
are internal appeals bodies or external appeals bodies. Unfortunately,
under the Central Act it is unclear under the law whether
the first Appellate
Authority can impose penalties, although it is explicit
that the Information Commission can. It is not clear therefore,
whether there can be any penalty for non-compliance that is
identified during an internal appeal. Information Commissions
will need to clarify whether Appellate Authorities can refer
cases to the Commission for consideration under s.20. It is
possible that Commissions could hear such cases under the
broad appeal remit under s.18(1)(f) of the Central Act which
empower Commissions to handle any complaint "in respect
of any other matter relating to requesting or obtaining access
to records under this Act".
bodies should be aware of their power to impose penalties and should
use them judiciously to sanction officers who have failed to discharge
their duties under the law properly. It needs to be made clear from
the outset that officers who don't respect the terms of the law
will be punished. This will set a proper standard within the bureaucracy
and will also satisfy the public that the bureaucracy is taking
the Central Act seriously.
under the State Acts there are reports of personal penalties
being imposed on officers and disciplinary procedures being
invoked which have led to suspension of erring officials. Although
it is hoped that most bureaucrats will implement the law in the
correct spirit, nonetheless it has already been shown in a number
of States that penalties can be a key tool in forcing a change in
culture as bureaucrats are made to pay personally for their resistance
to implementing open government.
click on the link to the Central
RTI Act to read the detailed provisions contained in the
law. Please click on the link to CHRI's
State RTI pages to find out more about relevant rules and implementation
in your specific State.