Vinita Deshmukh
In a bold order that comes as a relief to thousands of pensioners who might be harassed for not linking Aadhaar to their pension account, the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) has stated that such information comes under Section 7 (concerns `life and liberty’) of a person and should be given within 48 hours.
In a stern order the CIC also directed the Department of Post to provide by 23rd March certified copies of circulars/orders issued in the month of March 2017, which refer to Aadhaar, along with names of the 55 pensioners whose pension was delayed on the basis of such a directive.  A penalty by way of compensation to the victim is also on the anvil.
The background
Ahmednagar based Nirmala Dhumane took voluntary retirement from the post office and has been receiving monthly pension on the 1st of every month. However, she was told that her pension for March 2017 was held up because her account was not linked with Aadhaar. Fifty-five other pensioners of the Department of Post suffered the same fate. This was done all of a sudden and without any intimation or notice to the pensioners. Thus, their pension was abruptly stopped.
Dhumane filed two RTI applications, one on 5 July, 2017 and another on 27 July 2017. She sought information on her pension for the month of March 2017 which was withheld ”for want of a copy of Aadhaar Card.” She submitted in her RTI application that, “l am directed by the accounts branch to submit a copy of Aadhaar Card. I may kindly be furnished the copy of the order vide which the Aadhaar Card is required/essential for pension payment”  In her second RTI application, she reiterated, “(i) Copy of the order by which the Aadhaar card is required/necessary for pension payment, and (ii) names of the persons whose pension was held up for want of Aadhaar card for the month of March 2017.’’
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) provided an irrelevant reply, skirting the issue of whether Aadhaar Card was mandatory. Dissatisfied with the reply, she filed a First Appeal, stating, ”The Senior Superintendent of Post Office (SSPO), Ahmednagar, has given misleading information to my application under the RTI Act. Now the question arises as to why the pension of only 55 pensioners was delayed and how the pension of the remaining pensioners was effected on due dates. The SSPO Ahmednagar has given false information. Necessary action against him may be taken.  The FAA too upheld the order of the PIO. Thus, Dhumane filed a Second Appeal with the CIC.
The CIC hearing
During the CIC hearing on 27 February, CPIO Sandeep Hadgal of the Department of Post said that he received a circular to link the Aadhaar number with the pension accounts from two of his senior officers. However, he agreed that the circular from the Sub Regional Post Master (SRPM), Ahmednagar to the Post Master General Pune on 3 April, 2017 did not order to link up Aadhaar Card “without any intimation’’. He also felt that the SRPM Ahmednagar should not have delayed the payment of pension to the 55 pensioners for not linking with Aadhaar.
Dhumane argued that stalling of her pension has cause her “mental apprehension’’ and that ”denial of information on that vital aspect was breach of her right and it was quite illegal to say that the names of 55 pensioners would invade somebody’s privacy.’’
While the CPIO argued that it pertains to `third party’ information, CIC M Sridhar Acharyulu observed that the CPIO should have treated it as information to be given under Section 7. He states in his order, “it is 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 of pension to retired persons should be considered and categorised as information concerning life and should have been responded to, within 48 hours. Even if the appellant has not asked for immediate delivery of information, the CPIO, being a senior designated officer has a duty to consider this as information concerning life and answer within 48 hours. It was not done.’’
”The public authority has a duty under contract as per the 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.”
Reference to Supreme Court Orders
The CIC also referred to a couple of Supreme Court (SC) orders. Referring to an order of SC on 15th October 2015 and another of December 2017, the CIC quoted from the orders stating that citizens cannot be forced to produce their Aadhaar to avail themselves of government welfare schemes and benefits.
Referring to another SC order of 15 December, 2017, he quoted another news report which stated that this order had exempted six schemes from Aadhaar card link and they were:
Thus, the CIC has questioned the postal authorities “to explain under what legal authority they have directed the post offices to link their employees’ pension payments with the Aadhaar?’’
CIC has now directed the CPIO to show-cause ”why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon him and explain why the postal department should not be ordered to pay compensation to Dhumane for causing delay, loss and harassment to her without giving the  information sought.’