RTI on WHO’s suspension of Covaxin procurement| ‘CPIO’s reply incorrect, vague and mindlessly prepared’; CIC issues show cause notice

Central Information Commission

Central Information Commission: In a complaint for an action against the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) for willfully misleading and furnishing false information to the appellant, the Information Commissioner Heeralal Samariya, observed that the initial reply provided by the CPIO was incorrect, vague and mindlessly prepared and directed him to send his written submissions to justify as to why action should not be initiated against him under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) for the gross violation of its provisions.

In this case the Complainant filed RTI application on 27.04.2022 seeking information that, whereas the World Health Organisation (WHO) suspended ‘Covaxin’ through United Nations procurement agencies, and recommended countries using the vaccine to take appropriate action, in response to the outcome of a WHO inspection in March 2022 and to conduct an upgrade to address the identified deficiencies in manufacturing practices; thus, the complainant furnished the following questions:

  1. Whether Bharat Biotech has been asked for a report or explanation on this matter?

  2. Whether Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation(CDSCO) has inspected the sites of Bharat Biotech?

  3. Has any action been taken to investigate the claims made in the WHO report?

  4. Whether public authority has written to WHO on this matter?

The CPIO replied on 20.05.2022 that no such information is available.

The Complainant stated that he was not satisfied with the reply of the CPIO, thus moved a complaint proceeding under Section 18 of the Right to Information Act, to seek action against the CPIO and the CPIO’s of CDSCO under Section 20 of the RTI Act, and has not moved the second appeal as his main motive was not to obtain answers to the RTI but to fix accountability on the CPIOs. Further, it was submitted that it can be inferred from the CPIO’s submission that now provides answers to RTI queries, that the information was well in possession of the CDSCO and the CPIO and thus, he lied initially.

The Commission observed that the initial reply provided by the CPIO was incorrect, vague and mindlessly prepared. Further, the CPIO has not even justified his averred conduct in his written submission. It further expressed displeasure over such careless conduct of the CPIO and directed him to send his written submissions to justify as to why action should not be initiated against him under Section 20 of the RTI Act for the gross violation of its provisions.

Moreover, it directed the CPIO that if any other persons are also responsible for the omission, then he shall serve a copy of this order on such other persons under intimation to the Commission and ensure that written submissions of all such concerned persons are sent to the Commission. Further, directed that the said written submissions of CPIO must reach the Commission within 30 days from the date of receipt of the order, failing to which appropriate penal action will be taken against the erring official.

[Saurav Das v. Public Information Officer, CDSCO, 2022 SCC OnLine CIC 402, decided on 09.09.2022]

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