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Missing file cannot be an excuse for denying information: CIC

  • In the case of Balendra Kumar vs PIO, Ministry of Labour and Employment, the Central Information Commission (CIC) held that when information is being sought by the applicant, non-traceability of the file cannot be used as an excuse to deny the information sought.
     
    The complainant had sought details regarding certain specified files, however, CPIO replied stating that the file was not traceable. It was the claim of the respondent authorities that the file could not be traced despite their greatest efforts.

    The Commission noted that no public authority can deny the right of the applicant to the information sought. A file being non-traceable is a reflection of the inefficient management of files by the public authority. If despite best efforts the file cannot be traced, then efforts should be made to recreate the file and provide necessary information.
     
    Further, the Commission noted that lodging of an FIR doesn’t relieve the public authority of its duty to provide information. The Police only plays a part when there has been a theft of the files in question.
     
    The Commission also noted that those documents which are no longer used by the public authority, but are of a permanent nature, are to be shifted to the national or state archives for safekeeping. Loss of records of a permanent nature would invite penal sanctions under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code. Further, if these files are a part of the public record and form evidence in any case, their destruction would be seen as a destruction of evidence and will invite sanctions under the Public Records Act and the Right to Information Act.
     
    Suitable action in case of a missing file would be recovering the file, finding out which employee was responsible for the file being missing, taking suitable disciplinary actions against that employee and addressing the problems which arose due to the file being missing. If despite these efforts the file could not be traced, then the public authority has a moral and legal duty to justly address the grievance of the applicant. 


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