A woman filed an RTI for a case where she was defrauded by a relative (Representational)
"How did my husband encash his NSC returns three years after his death?"
This poser from a woman during a hearing before the Central Information Commission (CIC) flummoxed the postal department officials prompting the transparency watchdog to order an inquiry.
A poor and uneducated widow T Subbamma used the Right to Information (RTI) Act to dig up 10-year-old case where she was allegedly defrauded by her relative in collusion with the officials of the post office in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh.
Ms Subbamma's husband Mr Adisheshaiah had bought five National Savings Certificates (NSC) of Rs 10,000 each. He had died in 2004.
After his death, Ms Subbamma repeatedly approached the post office but no clear answer was given to her. She was later intimated that her husband had withdrawn the amount and interest in 2007.
With the help of her son, she filed an RTI last year seeking information on 10 points regarding documents relating to discharging certificates of NSCs, inquiry in the matter, statement of witnesses among others.
The postal department, however, gave only limited information and withheld crucial records citing section 8(1) (j) of the RTI Act which exempts personal information from disclosure.
During the hearing before the Commission, she asked the postal department officials "how did a person go to the post office three years after his death and realised five NSCs worth Rs 50,000 with interest, Sir?"
Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu noted that this question exposed a fraud that occurred in the post office and the misleading replies to her RTI requests.
"The Superintendent was confused and could not answer the old widow. He was flipping through the papers, and looking to his lady assistants and dealing clerks for help," he said.
Mr Acharyulu said the response of the department denying information citing exemption clause was "most atrocious and illegal" which appears to be a "cover up" of alleged involvement of a postal department official in defrauding Ms Subbamma of more than Rs 50,000 deposited by her husband.
Ms Subbamma alleged that the then superintendent of the post office created a set of false documents and helped some cheats to claim entire amount of the five NSC certificates.
Her son alleged that the office staff played a fraud with help of one of their relative.
"The Commission finds denial of information on points... is illegal and abuse of privacy provision by the present Superintendent of Post Office Kurnool, and it amounts to malicious denial of information," he said.
He said privacy does not mean right to hide corruption and misconduct, and the CPIO will be liable to face penalty proceedings for such abuse.
"The Commission finds merit in the suspicion of the appellant and her son that one Superintendent might have colluded with some cheats while present Superintendent and CPIO (the officer handling RTI application) Krishna Madhav is trying to cover up by suppressing the information," he said. He directed all the documents sought by ms Subbamma be provided to her.
Mr Acharyulu also issued a show cause notice to Mr Madhav as to why a penalty should not be imposed on him and also why a compensation should not be not paid to Subbamma.
"...the Commission requires the Chief Post Master General of Andhra Pradesh to take cognisance of this second appeal and this order as complaint and initiate appropriate action," he said.
Mr Acharyulu also directed Mr V Santana Raman, the First Appellate Authority of Andhra Pradesh Circle at Kurnool, to find factual aspects of encashment of NSCs of Mr Audisheshaiah in the context of allegations raised by his wife and son in this second appeal.
He directed that the fact finding report along with action initiated by their office into this entire matter should be sent to her November 1, with a copy marked to this Commission.