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Information panel gave wrong data for budget speech in Bengal
May, 28th 2013

In a major embarrassment for the Mamata Banerjee government, the West Bengal Information Commission (WBIC) has admitted to handing over wrong information that was meant for finance minister Amit Mitra's budget speech in the assembly this year.

The lapse is all the more serious because the commission answers your RTI queries as well.

The WBIC has written to the state government, conceding that it provided "wrong figures" relating to cases pending with it.

Officials at Writers' Buildings said that the commission had reported only 3,000 cases were awaiting hearing when the actual figure had crossed 10,000.

The commission, which failed to publish annual reports for three consecutive years, managed to put together the data on January 11, 2013, so that it could be used for the budget speech. "During the process of verification it has come to the commission's attention that wrong figures have been communicated on different occasion ... regarding yearly receipts and disposals of cases," says the letter (no: 596-WBIC/1B-01/08) on "position of pending appeals and complaints received by WBIC since inception".

The WBIC was set up in 2006 under the personnel & administrative reforms (P&AR), which is headed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The "wrong" data was sent to the joint secretary of the P&AR department.

Speaker Biman Banerjee was aghast when told about the letter. "We'll look into the matter and take necessary action," he said. Former Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim was stunned. "This is ridiculous. I can't believe that the state information commission, which is ruled by the RTI Act, 2005, has misled the assembly. This is not only a serious beach of privilege of the House, but a major let-down for the common man who hasn't many avenues to turn to for information related to public service," Halim said.

Halim, who had the world's longest serving tenure as Speaker (29 years), said a breach of privilege could be initiated against the offender if it is found that the wrong information ended up in the assembly.

The punishment could range from condemnation to a fine or even imprisonment. The process, of course, could be long-drawn with the matter being referred to the privilege committee, followed by inquiry and report.

The letter says: "A recent report indicating position of receipts and disposal of complaints for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 was sent to the joint secretary of your (P&AR) department as material for the budget speech of the finance minister. As no authenticated record of year-wise receipts and disposal of cases were available, the commission felt it necessary to conduct a thorough physical verification to determine the correct figures."

"Can't say what data was submitted to Writers'," state chief information commissioner Sujit Sarkar told TOI. "I am aware that around 10,000 cases are pending with the commission. This figure may not be absolutely correct. The annual report submitted before the assembly was compiled on the basis of whatever records were available with us then. It will be rectified now that an intense scanning is on. This is part of a special drive we have undertaken. We have found that the number of pending cases is more than whatever has been reported."

Kumari Anita, law officer, WBIC, explained: "The information provided to the assembly for 2010, 2011 and 2012 was based on rough calculation since the last time a proper, annual report was filed was in 2009. We are scrutinizing further and everything will be up on the website." When? The law officer's reply: "Can't tell."

"All this sounds so strange. Considering the gravity of the matter, it should be dealt with immediately," said Leader of the Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra.

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