The Central Information Commission has directed the Home Secretary to depute an official to find out the status of 13 inquiry commission reports on communal riots in the country since 1961, which Home Ministry officials claimed it did not have.
Information Commissioner Bimal Julka's directions came while hearing a plea by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, who sought to know from the ministry, information on complete reports (including all volumes and annexure) of various inquiry commissions or judicial commissions on communal riots.
The CIC directed Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba to depute a senior official to find out the status of the 13 reports, which are not available on the ministry's website as well.
In 2006, the ministry had constituted a working group of National Integration Council to study the reports of judicial and inquiry commissions appointed over the years to investigate communal riots, Ms Bhardwaj said.
The group studied 29 such reports, she said, adding she could not find 13 of them, relating to riots between 1961-2003, on the website of the ministry and filed an RTI plea to get a copy of those.
Through her application, she wanted reports of the Shiv Dayal Shrivastava commission on the 1961 Madhya Pradesh riots, the Justice Raghubar Dayal commission on the 1967 Bihar riots, the Justice P J Reddy commission on the 1969 Gujarat riots, the Prasad commission on the 1974 Delhi riots, the Justice VS Dave Commission on the 1985 Gujarat riots.
She also sought reports of the Justice P S Malvankar Commission on the 1986 Maharashtra riots, the Justice Haridas Das Commission on the 1988 West Bengal riots, the RH Heeraman Singh on the 1990 Andhra Pradesh riots, the Justice NL Tiberwal Commission on the 1990 Rajasthan riots.
Besides, she had also asked for the Justice K K Dubey Commission on the 1992 Madhya Pradesh riots, the Justice P R Gokulkrishnan Commission on the Tamil Nadu riots in 1998, the Justice Anant D Mane Commission on the 1999 Maharahtra riots and the Thomas P Joseph commission on the 2003 Kerala riots.
Information Commissioner Julka said, "While 16 of the reports are already on website, information about remaining 13 of them have been sought by the appellant since they were not on web site."
It is an admitted fact the home minsitry had constituted a committee to study the reports of judicial commissions and inquiry commissions about the anatomy of communal riots, he noted.
The home ministry had constituted this committee to study the reports and during the hearing the respondents from the ministry stated no such report was submitted before them, he said.
"Respondent (MHA) has neither provided information nor transferred the RTI application. In fact, it is seen that the respondent has not even furnished any reasonable justification for such complete inaction," he said.
In a stern observation, Mr Julka said the issue raised by Ms Bhardwaj involves larger public interest and thus the conduct of the public information officer (PIO) of the home ministry is found "totally unacceptable".
The "unexplained, unreasoned but consistent" approach of the respondent of shirking their role as custodian of information, and casual approach of the PIO is defeating the purpose of transparency and administration of the RTI regime, he observed.
He directed the Home Secretary to depute a senior official to look into the issue and submit a detailed report within 15 days carrying specific details like complete status of the 13 reports and reasons for them not being uploaded on the web site.
It should also contain who is the actual custodian of these reports, why application was not transferred to the authority holding information and why punitive action be not initiated for causing deliberate obstruction to the flow and dissemination of information and violation of the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, he has asked.
This is not the first case where the Commission -- the highest adjudicating authority on the RTI matters -- has pulled up the Home Ministry for "obstruction" of flow of information.
In a separate case, the ministry had not produced the report of the then CRPF Inspector General Rajnish Rai on alleged fake encounter in Assam which the Commission had sought to be produced for its perusal so as to decide on its disclosure.
The then Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad had said that in case records are not produced penal proceedings can be initiated against him for obstructing the process of "adjudication" of the Commission and causing obstruction to the flow of information.
"Under the RTI Act, no records can be withheld from this Commission under any pretext," the order had said.
It had said the CIC has statutory power which has also been acknowledged by the Supreme Court.
"The unusual resistance exhibited by the MHA in producing the records before the Commission cannot be countenanced and the Commission perceives the same to be a direct onslaught on the RTI regime," it had said.