The Central Information Commission has issued a show-cause notice to the central public information officer of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for “incorrect, vague and mindlessly prepared” response to an RTI applicant seeking information on the WHO-imposed suspension on the procurement of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. The Commission has directed the CPIO of the CDSCO, Sushanta Sarkar, to explain why penal proceedings under Section 20 of the RTI Act be not initiated against him for denial of information.
RTI applicant Saurav Das had approached the Commission with a complaint against Sarkar for denial of information on the issue.
Under Section 20 of the RTI Act, if CIC is convinced that information denial was unjustified and arising out of malafide intention, it may impose a penalty of Rs 250 from the day the information became due to the day it was furnished subject to a maximum limit of Rs 25,000 which would be deducted from the salary of the CPIO.
Das in his RTI application had sought information on the WHO’s suspension of supply of Covaxin, produced by Bharat Biotech, through UN procurement agencies following an inspection done by the global body in March this year.
The applicant had sought to know from the CDSCO whether it has taken cognizance of the issue, date when it was taken up before competent authority, and action taken.
He had also demanded under the Right to Information if any report or explanation was sought from Bharat Biotch or any inspection of Bharat Biotech’s facilities was conducted by CDSCO, any communications exchanged with the World Health Organisation (WHO) among other queries.
In response, CDSCO CPIO Sarkar gave a one line response, “No such information is available.”
Das approached the Commission, the highest appellate body for RTI matters, with his complaint against the CPIO for denial of information.
When the matter came before Information Commissioner Heeralal Samariya, the CDSCO submitted its response a day before the hearing on August 30 in which it said facilities of Bharat Biotech were inspected eight times in 2020.
“The action of suspension of supply of Covaxin (Bharat Biotech) through UN procurement agencies was taken by WHO at their end. In this regard, it is informed that each batch of Covaxin manufactured by Bharat Biotech for domestic use, is being sent to Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL), Kasauli for its testing and Lot release and is allowed to enter into the market only after its release by CDL, Kasauli,” it said.
The CPIO said Bharat Biotech had been asked to submit corrective action and prevention action (CAPA) plan by WHO.
The official denied sharing information on communications with WHO citing exemption clauses of RTI Act but admitted video conference meetings were held with the world body on this matter.
“The Commission has gone through the case records as well as written submissions of both the parties and on the basis of proceedings observed that the initial reply provided by the CPIO was incorrect, vague and mindlessly prepared,” the Information Commissioner Samariya held.
He pointed out that the CPIO has not even justified his averred conduct in his written submission.
“In view of the foregoing, the Commission expresses severe displeasure over such a lackadaisical conduct of the CPIO, Sushanta Sarkar and directs him to send his written submissions to justify as to why action should not be initiated against him/her under Section 20 of the RTI Act for the gross violation of its provisions,” Samariya said.
He said that in doing so, if any other persons are also responsible for the omission, then CPIO, Sushanta Sarkar 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. PTI