CIC | Amidst uncertainties of COVID-19, delay in disclosing details of migrant workers will compound difficulties either for them or government; Severe admonition against CPIO for negligent handling of RTI application

Central Information Commission (CIC): Vanaja N. Sarna, Information Commissioner disposed of a complaint while stating the following on CPIO’s cryptic one liner response on the issue of migrant workers:

Commission is pained to see such a callous and non-serious attitude of the CPIO while handling the RTI application, more so, during such times of pandemic when every citizen is worried about the frayed lives of the country’s poor and has precipitated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis for migrant workers.

Information Sought

Complainant sought the information from Chief Labour Commissioner with regard to data about migrant workers, who were stranded and placed in various temporary shelter/relief camps.

Submissions

Complainant submitted that he is not satisfied with the reply of the CPIO as he is not seeking any personal information about any particular stranded migrant worker. Instead he merely sought State-wise and district-wise statistics of compliance with the D.O. letter of the Chief Labour Commissioner and statistical information about migrant workers identified during the said enumeration exercise, along with their gender-wise and occupation-wise breakups.

He only sought intimation of the URL of the webpage where the statistics are posted on an official website.

Therefore the reply of the CPIO is difficult to believe and highly unacceptable. There is no reason why this Respondent Public Authority ought not to have such information in their custody when such information has been specifically called for through the D.O.

Respondent Authority cannot shy away from its responsibility of collecting information about migrant workers and making the same publicly accessible even during normal times.

Adding to the submissions, it was stated that, suo moto and time bound public disclosure of data about migrant workers is of utmost importance for ensuring the well-being of this key segment of our society and economy.

Observation & Decision

It is established beyond doubt that the CPIO has handled the RTI application in a very callous and casual manner.

CPIO in his reply dated 05.05.2020 had simply stated that as per the Stat Section is concerned, no such details as asked by the Complainant were available.

Commission was not convinced with the fact that when a D.O. letter was issued by the Chief Labour Commissioner during the time when the whole country is under the grip of a pandemic which has seriously affected the migrant workers and the D.O. letter was sent to all Regional heads to collect the data related to migrant workers, then how is it possible that no action, whatsoever, was taken on this D.O.

To the utmost surprise of the Commission, the CPIO has given a cursory, flimsy and inappropriate reply to the Complainant while totally ignoring the seriousness of the issue raised by the Complainant.

Commission records its severe admonition against the CPIO for such negligent handling of the RTI application concerning an issue of such wide implications.

CPIO appears to be completely unaware of the provisions of the RTI Act as had he been aware, he could have transferred the same to the appropriate authority to obtain the collated information from them.

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 the CPIO.

Need of the hour is to get concrete data regarding the number of stranded migrant workers across the country so that necessary measures may be taken by the concerned State Governments/ UTs to provide some relief to them.

Further the Commission added to its conclusion that, it is pertinent to note that given the uncertainties of the present times, any further delay in disclosing these details or evading the disclosure will only compound the difficulties of either side, the government and that of the unfortunate migrant workers.

Commission invoked Section 25(5) of the RTI Act and issued 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.

Thus, it is necessary for the CPIO to put his best possible efforts to collect this data from different Regional Heads and place the same on their website immediately even if it is done in a piece meal manner.

An advisory is issued under Section 25(5) of the RTI Act to the Chief Labour Commissioner, to suo-moto upload maximum data as available with them in relation to the migrant workers stranded in relief camps or shelters organised by governments or at the workplace of their employers or generally clustered in any district and wherever possible cumulative numbers of the migrant workers and the names of the districts from where the data is collected should also be uploaded in compliance with Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005, having regard to the peculiar circumstances prevalent in the country. [Venkatesh Nayak v. CPIO; Office of the Chief Labour Commissioner; CIC/OTCLC/C/2020/669711/03585; decided on 27-05-2020]

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