March 08, 2018
Case name: N N Dhumane v. PIO, Department of Posts
Date of Judgement: February 27, 2018
The issue of linkage of Aadhaar for basic services and welfare Schemes and subsequent denial for lack of Aadhaar seems to intensifying with the recent case being withholding of Pension for want of Aadhaar. The order of CIC in the instant case is a remarkable one as it condemns the act of Department of Posts in denying payment of pension for want of Aadhaar Card. Other key observation made by the CIC in the case was that payment of pension is a matter of life or liberty under the RTI Act and applications relating to payment of Pension shall be disposed by the Public Information Officers within 48 hours.
Brief Facts of case: In this case, the RTI applicant had filed two applications wherein she stated that her pension for the month of March, 2017 was withheld for the want of Aadhaar. In this context, she requested the concerned Department to furnish copy of order vide which Aadhaar card was being made mandatory for payment of pension.
The CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) in the case however did not render a satisfactory answer to her application and hence she preferred an appeal wherein she alleged that the pension of only 55 pensioners were withheld and that there was no order on the subject to link up Aadhaar card to Pension account. The action of SR Post Master Ahmednagar to withhold the pension of 55 pensioners contravened the mandatory constitutional provisions of affecting payment of pension on first of each month.
Central Information Commissioner’s (CIC) Order
The CIC in the case took a strong note of the act of Department of Posts in withholding the claimant’s pension and opined that the Department had no authority to link up the Aadhaar Card to her pension account all of sudden without any notice and stop payment for that reason; she suffered agony, various losses due to delay, could not lead normal life as pensioner etc.
Pension related information to be rendered within 48 hours- That the case demonstrated a matter of life and living of 55 pensioners who were totally dependent upon the paltry amount of pension. Though it is a small amount even a day’s delay in payment might disturb the routine life of all or some of them. That is why the information relating to payment pension to retired persons should be considered and categorized as the information concerning the life and should have been responded within 48 hours.
Payment of Pension is a question of life or liberty- That the public authority has a duty under contract as per Contract Act, Consumer Protection Act, Trusts Act and also under Right to Information Act to pay the pension in time, rectify the problem of delay promptly or give information immediately to the appellant or pensioners suffering like her.
The CIC in the case made a scathing attack on concerned CPIO’s act of replying on the 30th day from the date of RTI application and sitting over the file for 29 days doing nothing, just to make use of the facilitative provision. CIC further stated that the CPIO did not bother to examine whether this information could fall under category of “concerning life or liberty”. Here it would be relevant to mention that Section 7 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 provides that where the information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within forty-eight hours of the receipt of the request.
Linking of Aadhaar with Pension Payment- That the Postal authorities have a statutory duty to disclose full facts and circumstances along with reasons why they are linking Aadhaar with pension payment, why should they stop payment of pensions for the sake of such linking, why did they not provide for sufficient advanced information to the pensioners, whether such linking order has legal sanctity to be implemented without any advance notice, etc under Section 4(1)(c) and (d) of the RTI Act.
The CIC also made reference to Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd) and another v Union of India (right to privacy case), the Court held that citizens cannot be forced to produce his Aadhaar to avail themselves of government welfare schemes and benefits.
The CIC in the with reference to a media report enumerating six categories of schemes mentioned in previous orders i.e. public distribution scheme (PDS), LPG distribution scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), National Social Assistance Programme (Old age pensions, widow pensions, disability pensions), the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).
The CIC held that because of the above orders of the Supreme Court against linking the aadhaar with more than six categories mentioned, the Postal authorities in the instant case were expected to explain under what legal authority they have directed the post offices to link their employer’s pension payments with the aadhaar?
In view of the aforesaid circumstances of the case and observations, the Commission directed the CPIO to show-cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon him for above reasons. The public authority shall explain why it should not be ordered to pay compensation to the appellant for causing delay, loss and harassment her without giving information sought.
The Commission also directed the respondent authority to provide certified copies of circulars by which pension of 55 employees was delayed referring to Aadhaar before 23.03.2018.
The CIC’s order can be accessed here.