CIC Order for Protection of RTI Activists.

CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION

(Room No.313, CIC Bhawan, Baba Gangnath Marg, Munirka, New Delhi-110067)

Before Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu (Madabhushi Sridhar), CIC

CIC/BS/A/2016/002028
CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142254
CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142255
CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142266
CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142271
CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142272
CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142274
CIC/ESICO/A/2016/300430
CIC/ESICO/A/2016/300431
CIC/ESICO/A/2016/300432
CIC/ESICO/A/2016/300433
CIC/ESICO/A/2016/300435
CIC/ESICO/A/2016/300436
CIC/ESICO/A/2016/300437

Harinder Dhingra v. PIO, ESIC, Faridabad

Order Sheet: RTI filed on 27.04.2016, CPIO replied on 02.05.2016, FAO – Nil, Second appeal filed on 15.11.2016, Hearing on 11.12.2017;
Proceedings on 11.12.2017: Appellant is present and Public Authority is represented by Shri C.K. Das, SPIO, ESIC Hqrs, New Delhi, Smt. Amita Suresh, CPIO, Sec-16, Faridabad, Shri Bhairav Satyawali, Asst. Director, ESIC Hqrs. New Delhi, Shri Rahul Bharadwaj, DPIO, Shri Yogesh Saini representative of DPIO Shri Rakesh Kumar, Shri Rajesh Kukreti, ESIC Hqrs,
Date of Decision: 20.12.2017. Disposed of with directions.
Complaint of non-compliance of Orders dated 20.12.2017 resulting in threats to his life and liberty filed by the appellant on 05.01.2018 at 1:30 noon.
Proceedings on: 05.01.2018: Directions issued.

ORDER ON COMPLAINT OF NON-COMPLIANCE
1. Mr. Harinder Dhingra, appellant/complainant in above cases filed an urgent petition saying that he was receiving multiple threats to his life and safety in the past 24 hours, to stop his efforts to secure information about the impersonation scandal in the appointments of LDCs and SSO (Inspectors) in ESIC. He also stated that because the ESIC was not implementing the orders of CIC, threats to him have been started. He wrote to the Commission that he filed representations to the official email ids of Haryana Police, the Ministry and the ESIC today (i.e, January 5, 2018). The Appellant approached the Commission through his representative during the lunch time and also forwarded the copies of his representations to above three public authorities.
2. The appellant filed various RTI applications such as CIC/VS/A/2016/1522-30, 1489-90 wherein directions were issued on 24th March, 2017 which was partly compiled with by ESIC and the matter was also referred to the CBI. The Commission while hearing cases with numbers CIC/BS/A/2016/002028, CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142254-55, 300430-37, 142266, 71, 72, 74 on 14th July 2017 directed the ESIC to provide information regarding appointment/recruitment of Social Service Officers (Inspectors).
3. The appellant filed following written representation dated 5.1.2018:
“Taking note of above submissions of ESIC, the Commission directed in CIC/BS/A/2016/002028, CIC/ESICO/A/2017/142254-55, 300430-37, 142266, 71, 72, 74 dated 20th December, 2017 as under:
“3. The appellant submitted that the information with regard to recruitment of Social Security Officers was received whereas on remaining cases the respondent authority stated that the files have been weeded out long back.
4. Shri Yogesh Saini, Asstt. Director (Rectt.) who represented Shri Rakesh Kumar, Deputy Director (Rectt.), DPIO (Exam.), ESIC submitted that the following documents are provided to the appellant:
a. A letter dated 08.12.2017 was addressed to the Commission consisting of one page stating that information was already furnished in compliance to the order dated 14.07.2017 and the same was forwarded to the appellant.
b. A letter dated 31.07.2017 addressed to the Commission pertaining to information regarding recruitment of Social Security Officers Exam 2007 along with information regarding weeded out files/documents, copy of note sheets etc. with a copy to the appellant.
5. Shri Bhairav Satyawali, Asst. Director handed-over the following documents to the appellant in the form of certified copies during the hearing:
a. A letter dated 09.08.2017 sent to the Joint Director (TFC), CBI regarding permission for obtaining handwriting experts through CFSL along with a reminder on 13.09.2017.
b. A letter dated 08.09.2017, addressed to the Additional Commissioner who accorded his permission to conduct inquiry and this letter was forwarded to CFSL on 25.09.2017 for seeking opinion and the reply of which is still awaited.
6. The Commission noticed that though there was a serious suspicion about impersonation, as visible from the contentions of both the parties, nothing tangible could come out of the exercise under RTI and other investigations. One of the reasons for this is weeding out of records like the copies of admit cards etc. The officers representing the public authority represented to the Commission that the ESIC has learnt from its past experiences like this and making foolproof arrangements to prevent any possibility of impersonation in the examination. The officers also submitted that the measures to increase the transparency and publishing the results on website immediately after the completion of the evaluation along with the merit list to prevent the irregularities.
7. The Commission still feels that there is a need to inquire into the allegations of impersonation and irregularities raised by the appellant. The Commission recommends that there should be a follow-up action on letter dated 09.08.2017 and reminder dated 30.09.2017 addressed to Joint Director (TFC), CBI requesting them to use the services of the handwriting experts through CFSL to bring out the persons involved in the impersonation scandal in ESIC. The Commission directs the Central Forensic Science Laboratory to inform the appellant when they would respond to the letter dated 25.09.2017 forwarded from the Additional Commissioner of ESIC and provide a certified copy of their conclusions to the appellant within 15 days from the date of preparing such letter/report, and the CPIO of ESIC is directed to forward this Order to concerned CPIO, Central Forensic Science Laboratory and follow-up accordingly. The Commission directs the respondent authority to inform the appellant about the progress in the investigation and action taken on the serious issue raised by the appellant.
8. The Commission also directs the public authority to provide certified copies of the extract of weeding out register and also directs the Chief Vigilance Officer, ESIC to inform the status of inquiry, along with latest action status, within 15 days from the date of receipt of this Order.
4. He also submitted that: I am pursuing this case of fraud played on deserving candidates, who lost out the jobs to non-deserving candidates, which in turn turned this Mafia against me, who can be seen roaming around my residence enquiring about me. The delay in not providing information by ESIC has exposed me to risk of being physically harmed and as such it is prayed that ESIC is directed to provide information and also put on public domain so that risk to the appellant is minimized”.
5. Appellant’s representative personally represented that after this Commission ordered the public authority to furnish the copies of report of Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), who analysed the admit-cards and attendance sheets, and the orders were uploaded on the official website of the Commission on 30.12.2017, the threats started pouring in. It was represented that some unidentified people passing by him, when he was walking in his colony threatened to stop pursuing the RTI cases, and were leaving the scene immediately, even when Mr. Harinder Dhingra was asking him to come home and discuss. The appellant said that such incidents happened at different times involving different people in the last 24 hours. The Commission finds that threats are serious in nature and risk to life and liberty of appellant might have increased. He also wanted the action related information on his representation for protection filed before the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Chairman ESIC and the Director General of Police, Haryana.
6. In view of the urgency and seriousness of the matters, Commission considers that this complaint of non-compliance as immediate extension of second appeals in the above referred numbers and directs concerned authorities to initiate measures to secure the life and liberty of the appellant and his family members and inform him the steps taken to assure him of protection.
A. The Commission directs Shri Raj Kumar, IAS, Director General of ESIC to take necessary measures to ensure the life and safety of the appellant Mr. Harinder Dhingra and his family members, and file compliance report within 48 hours.
B. The Commission directs Shri Arun Kumar, Insurance Commissioner, (Revenue & Benefit, Recruitment, Inspection & Actuarial, Pubic Relation, P&A Except E-II, E-IV & E-VI), Ministry of Labour and Employment to initiate necessary steps to secure the life and safety of the appellant and his family members, besides instructing speedy investigation and strict action against the culprits, who are obviously behind the threats, and because any delay in investigation might increase the risk of appellant and others and file compliance report within 48 hours.
C. The Commission also directs Shri Baljit Singh Sandhu, Director General of Police, Haryana to urgently act on this complaint and provide adequate security to Mr. Harinder Dhingra and his family members, besides, inform him the action taken and submit compliance report to the Commission within 48 hours.
D. The Commission also directs the CPIO, ESIC Hqrs., Faridabad to comply the order dated 11.12.2017 and send the compliance report within 10 days.
7. The appellant being an RTI activist and whistle blower exposing several irregularities and corrupt incidents in administration, it is relevant to refer to the protection to the whistle blowers in our system. The Union Cabinet has approved the Whistle Blower Protection Bill 2011 as part of a drive to eliminate corruption in the country’s bureaucracy and passed by the Lok Sabha on 27 December 2011. The Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha on 21 February 2014 and received the President’s assent on 9 May 2014. This is “an Act to establish a mechanism to receive complaints relating to disclosure on any allegation of corruption or willful misuse of power or willful misuse of discretion against any public servant and to inquire or cause an inquiry into such disclosure and to provide adequate safeguards against victimization of the person making such complaint and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto”. The salient features are:
•What: It seeks to protect whistle blowers, i.e. persons making a public interest disclosure related to an act of corruption, misuse of power, or criminal offense by a public servant.
•Who: Anybody can be a whistle blower: Any public servant or any other person including a non-governmental organization may make such a disclosure to the Central or State Vigilance Commission.
•Identity: It insists on disclosure of identity. Every complaint has to include the identity of the complainant.
•Confidentiality: However Act protected identity from disclosure: The Vigilance Commission shall not disclose the identity of the complainant except to the head of the department if he deems it necessary. The Act penalizes any person who has disclosed the identity of the complainant.
•Penalizing complainant: The Act has a controversial clause that prescribes penalties for knowingly making false complaints.

8. Unfortunately the Whistle Blowers Protection Act is not in force, though it was notified in the Gazette. Assuming that this Act is in force, it will not extend protection to the information seeker under RTI Act, as they do not come under the category of ‘persons who made disclosures to State or Central Vigilance Commissioner’.

9. Media reported that many Right to Information Act (RTI) activists, including policemen, have been harassed and even murdered for seeking information which might embarrass the public servants. Many faced assaults on a regular basis.
10. The Asian Centre for Human Rights recommended insertion of a separate chapter, “Protection of those seeking information under the (RTI) Act”. It has suggested that protection measures should include (a) mandatory, immediate registration of complaints of threats or attacks against RTI activists on the First Information Report and placing such FIRs before the magistrate or judge of the area within 24 hours for issuance of directions for protection of those under threats and their family members, and periodic review of such protection measures; (b) conducting inquiry into threats or attacks by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police/Assistant Commissioner of Police, to be concluded within 90 days; and (c) trial of the accused within six months. Further, concerned Public Information Officers, First Appellate Authorities and those directly related with the information sought under the RTI Act should be presumed to have abetted the offenses against the RTI activists unless evidence proves otherwise. (d) We know, ‘Prevention is better than cure, we should make changes in the present RTI Act which should ensure the anonymity of the Applicant, this can be achieved by removing the compulsion of mentions of name and address of applicant. And the Information should be posted on the Official Website. Now, most of the Information which results in threat to the life of whistle blowers and activists has no security concern. For example, all the information related to MNREGA if made public, is not going to result in threat to privacy of nation or anyone, But we have seen murders of various RTI activist seeking information related to MNREGA. Murderous attacks on RTI Activists indicate an unholy nexus between public servants, corporate entities and politicians.

11. The copy of this Order shall be served on the Union Home Minister, the Chief Minister of Haryana and the Home Minister of Haryana, urgently for necessary action and shall be dispatched to the concerned parties today itself by post and by email.

(M. Sridhar Acharyulu)
Central Information Commissioner
Authenticated true copy

(Dinesh Kumar)
Deputy Registrar

Copy of decision given to the parties free of cost.

Addresses of the parties:
1.Shri Rajnath Singh
Hon’ble Union Home Minister,
Government of India
17, Akbar Road,
New Delhi – 110 011

2.Sh. Manohar Lal
Hon’ble Chief Minister and Home Minister,
Government of Haryana,
4th Floor, Haryana Civil Secretariat,
Sector-1, Chandigarh

3.The CPIO under RTI,
Ministry of Labour and Employment
Govt. of India,
Shram Shakti Bhawan,
Rafi Marg,
New Delhi-110001

4.The Director General
Employees State Insurance Corporation
Panchdeep Bhawan
Comrade Inderjeet Gupta (CIG) Marg,
New Delhi – 110 002.

5.Shri Baljit Singh Sandhu
Director General of Police,
Police Headquarters,
Panchkula, Haryana

6.The CPIO under RTI,
ESIC, Faridabad, Ground Floor,
Panchdeep Bhawan, Sec-16,
NIT, Faridabad-121 002

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