'Coal files controversy could have been averted'

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New Delhi, Sept 5: The controversy over missing coal files could have been averted if the government had strictly implemented computerisation of records as mandated under the RTI Act, outgoing Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra said in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Speaking to PTI in an exclusive interview, Mishra said section four of the RTI Act mandates indexing and computerisation of records and if it was implemented properly such a situation could have been averted.

"You must have read about missing coal files which is the talking point of the nation these days....If files will be saved in the computer itself, there is no chance of getting it lost. Copy of files can be kept in one or two computer hard disk it cannot be lost," he said while replying to a question on challenges faced by the RTI Act.

Computerisation of records could have averted the coal files fiasco, Mishra said

Mishra was reffering to the controversy over some of the Coal Ministry files, sought by CBI as part of its probe into alleged irregularities in allocation of coal blocks, being found "missing".

"RTI Act in 2005 itself said in the law itself in section 4(1)(a) that government using its resources shall computerise its records. So even if before 2005 we did not do it, what stops us from doing it after 2005," he said.

Mishra said unsatisfactory implementation of the section four of the RTI Act is the only and most important bottleneck in the implementation of the RTI Act.

The 64-year old former bureaucrat retired today after a five-year tenure at CIC which saw the landmark decision to bring six political parties under the RTI Act.

When asked about the decision, Mishra said under the RTI Act the information which is on records can be provided to an information seeker. If the information is not part of records, it cannot be given.

So if there are no records of donors who are paying less than Rs 20,000 to a political parties, they are not supposed to give it, he said.

When asked whether the step of the political parties to take the issue directly to Parliament rather than challenging in the courts was correct, Mishra said it was their decision and they have all the rights to take remedies like anyone else in the case of adverse decision.

"Some people do not accept order. Unless the order is passed by Supreme Court, any order passed by a subordinate court or the tribunal, people might accept or not accept the order," he said.

When asked whether it would have been better if the political parties would have challenged it in courts rather than scuttle the legal scrutiny and amend the law, Mishra said it is the domain of the aggrieved party and Commission could do little about it.

The Commissioner was of the view that there should be a difference in non-governmental organisations funded by government and full-fledged government department when it comes to replying RTI application.

He said while the government department have all the set-up, a small non-governmental organisation which would have received some grants years ago may not have that much man power to respond to RTI applications.

In the 53-page exhaustive order of the Full Bench comprising Mishra and then Information Commissioners M L Sharma and Annapurna Dixit, the panel had termed six political parties as non-governmental organisation which are indirectly financed by the government by getting Income Tax exemptions and land for offices on cheaper rates.

The Commission felt this indirect financing makes political parties a public authority answerable under the RTI Act. The political parties have decided to amend the RTI Act to exempt them from the definition of the public authority.

PTI

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