Denial of information on non-availability of Aadhar card, serious breach of right to information; public authorities directed to train CPIOs in RTI

Central information Commission: The complainant before the Commission posed doubt over embezzlement of funds of HUDCO-the government-owned Housing and Urban Development Corporation Limited and filed RTI seeking information about amounts spent by it for various purposes. Instead of providing the information, the concerned CPIO wrote to the complainant demanding the proof of identity and proof of address by producing Aadhar Card, Voter’s ID Card or Passport as proof of citizenship. Further, the FAA confirmed the demand for proof of identity, verification of address and establishing citizenship of the appellant.

Counsel on complainant’s behalf submitted that around five crore rupees worth malpractice was going on in HUDCO in the form of giving and receiving of gifts involving senior people in the Ministry, and it was not made public as to who asked those gifts and who received. He said gifts like iPhone, Mont Blanc pens and iPads were given to the senior authorities of their Ministry by MD of HUDCO- Mr. Ravi Kant. Amazed at the allegations of non-availability of record of such huge expenditure, the CIC recommended that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) should look into the claim and examine if such an unhealthy practice is permissible and sought the reply of CPIOs on show cause notices.

After the replies were filed, the commission observed that the CPIOs concerned denied the information to complainant due to the suspicion on his citizenship and had given reasons for the suspicion. The CPIO had explained in their reply that some others have filed anonymous or pseudonymous complaints which the commissioner disregarded and termed as ‘invalid’. On this explanation, it was observed that taking action against a complaint without bearing an identifiable name is different from objecting to the RTI application, which is properly filed with name, address and identity.

It further observed that the information sought by the complainant was well within the ambit of S. 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act and said, rather such information must be disclosed suo motu by any public authority and consequently, imposed penalty on one of the CPIOs- DK Gupta and did not proceed against SK Gupta because he had partially started giving the information after Commission’s directions earlier. The Commission distinctly held that denial of information for lack of Aadhaar card will be a serious breach of right, which was guaranteed by the RTI Act and would also amount to harassment of the applicant. It further directed that he CPIOs be trained in RTI by the public authorities. [VishwasBhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd., CIC/HUDCO/C/2017/164658, decided on 26.12.2017]

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