In Rare Action, Arrest Warrant Issued Against Public Information Officer in MP for Sitting on 2017 RTI

© Provided by News18 In Rare Action, Arrest Warrant Issued Against Public Information Officer in MP for Sitting on 2017 RTI

In a first-of-its-kind action in Madhya Pradesh, the State Information Commission on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant against a Public Information Officer (PIO) for non-compliance of orders over a period of three years.

State Information Commissioner Rahul Singh issued the arrest warrant against Chief Medical and Health Officer (CMHO) Burhanpur Dr Vikram Singh Verma over his non-compliance to appearance notices issued by the commission in the past two years. Singh is also the PIO for health services in Burhanpur district, tasked with providing information to citizens under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The RTI that started the saga was filed by appellant Sadashiv Sonwane with Dr Vikram Singh Verma on August 10, 2017. Sonwane had sought information related to posting and appointment of drivers with the health department in Burhanpur district. Verma didn’t respond to the RTI application within the stipulated period of 30 days, following which the applicant filed a first appeal. The First Appellate Authority issued orders to Verma asking him to disclose the information to Sonwane on October 7, 2017. But Verma again failed to provide the information to Sonwane.

Sonwane filed a second appeal with the State Information Commission on March 22, 2018. During the course of the hearing, the Commission issued several summons between October 18, 2019 and February 10, 2021 that Verma failed to honour. He also did not produce any document justifying his actions. The Commission then directed Akash Tripathi, the Commissioner for Directorate of Health Services in MP, to ensure Verma’s appearance since he is the controlling authority in matters related to PIOs.

But Tripathi too failed to comply, violating rule 8 (4) of MP RTI Appeal and Fees Rules 2005 which says the State Information Commission’s order is final and binding. Finally, the Commission imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on Verma on December 16, 2020, asking Tripathi to recover the penalty amount if the PIO failed to deposit it with the Commission within a month’s time. The Commission had to repeat this directive to Tripathi on three occasions between April and August 2021, with no suitable response.

The Commission on Tuesday also issued a showcause notice against Tripathi for failing to comply with its orders.

In his order, State Information Commissioner Rahul Singh said the “conduct and demeanor of the PIO (Verma) and the Commissioner (Tripathi) clearly reflects apathetic disregard of the law passed by Parliament for creating transparent and accountable governance.”

“It is disheartening and disappointing to see officers, who are responsible and obligated to citizens under the RTI Act, are actively neglecting, violating, and obstructing the operation of the RTI Act, which is part of the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India,” he added.

The warrant issued by Singh directs Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Indore Division to secure personal attendance of Dr Vikram Singh before the Commission at 12 noon on October 5, 2021 in Court Room No. 4.

“Dr. Vikram Singh shall give bail himself in the sum of Rupees 5000/- to attend before me on the 11th day of October, 2021, at 12 noon, he may be released,” the warrant reads.

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