The Central Information Commission has pulled up an official for “callous and casual” response in denying data on stranded migrant labourers under the RTI Act, and asked the Labour Ministry to upload on its website as much data as possible on them.
Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna came down heavily on the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the office of Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) who has told RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak that it has no data on stranded migrant labourers.
The CPIO gave the response despite Nayak having quoted an April 8 circular of the CLC, directing its regional office to count within three days every labourer stranded after the imposition of the countrywide lockdown on March 25 to combat coronavirus.
Nearly a fortnight after the CLC circular, Nayak had filed an RTI application seeking to know the state-wise names of districts from which data about the stranded migrant workers were received. But he was told the officer did not have any data.
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Nayak then filed a complaint under the Right to Information (RTI) Act before the Commission.
Sarna said the bench is conscious of the fact that under Section 18 of the RTI Act directions for disclosure of information is not warranted.
However, she said, keeping in view the extraordinary circumstances that necessitated the complaint, it was prudent to consider Nayaks query in the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.
“In doing so, the Commission invokes section 25(5) of the RTI Act and issues an advisory to the respondent authority to maintain a robust and dynamic website for placing all data related to migrant workers therein as and when it is received from different Regional Heads,” she said.
Sarna quoted from orders of the Supreme Court, High Courts and Home Ministry’s press briefings in her detailed direction.
At this point, she said, it is necessary for the CPIO to put his best possible efforts to collect this data from different Regional Heads and place them on their website immediately even if it is done in a piecemeal manner.
“It is also necessary to continue to update this data from time to time as additional data is received from various quarters,” she said.
Underlining that the RTI application raised a very important issue, Sarna said the Commission is not convinced with the fact that when a letter is issued by the Chief Labour Commissioner to collect the data on migrant labourers, who are seriously affected by the pandemic, then how it is possible that no action was taken whatsoever.
“It is established beyond doubt that the CPIO has handled the RTI application in a very callous and casual manner. The complainant through his RTI application has raised a very important issue related to the stranded migrant workers,” Sarna said in her stern order.
But to the utmost surprise of the Commission, she observed, the CPIO has given a cursory, flimsy and inappropriate reply to Nayak while totally ignoring the seriousness of the issue he raised.
“The Commission records its severe admonition against the CPIO for such negligent handling of the RTI application concerning an issue of such wide implications,” she said.
Sarna said the officer seemed completely unaware of the provisions of the RTI Act.
Had he been aware, he could have transferred the query to the appropriate authority in the Chief Labour Commissioners office to obtain the collated information from them, she said.
“He should note that such poor handling shows complete laxity towards the implementation of the RTI Act which was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the country and in case such a lapse is repeated in future, the Commission will be constrained to initiate penal action against him,” she said.