The Central Information Commission on 23rd April 2017 made it clear that ‘missing files’ is no defence and it cannot be used as an excuse to deny information.
Under the Right to Information Act, it is mandatory to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public. When information is being sought, non-traceability of the file cannot be used to deny information.
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 and pathetic management of files by the public authority. If despite best efforts the file cannot be traced, then efforts should be made to reconstruct the file and provide information.
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, 1993 and the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Further, those documents which are no longer to be 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 The Indian Penal Code. Appropriate 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 sincerely address the grievance of the applicant.
The Commission, having the power to direct disclosure of information provided, has the jurisdiction to direct enquiry against the Public Information Officer (PIO) or Central Assistant Public Information Officer (CPIO) claiming that the information sought by the applicant is not traceable.
The Indian Lawyer