Mere existence of disciplinary proceeding no reason for denying information

Central Information Commission: The appellant had requested the following information regarding the disciplinary case against him, from the CPIO, Dept. Of Posts:

1. When was his representation addressed to SPO, Nanded forwarded to the SPO by the Regional Office (“RO”), Aurangabad and how many times did the RO Aurangabad remind the SPO, Nanded to complete disciplinary proceedings against the appellant in time?

2. When was the disciplinary case submitted to the Directorate of CPMG, Mumbai and what was the present status of the case?

The CPIO in his reply stated that since the disciplinary proceedings were pending at that time, the same could not be disclosed under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act (“the Act”), which reads:

“8. Exemption from disclosure of information-

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen-

(a)-(g) …

(h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

(i)-(j) …”

This response of the CPIO was upheld by the First Appellate Authority, hence the appellant approached the Central Information Commission (“the CIC”), which directed the current CPIO to furnish requested information and issued a show-cause notice to the erstwhile CPIO. The CPIO, Dept. of Posts upon the information being requested replied that since the information sought included questioning the actions of the Investigation Officer, details of opinions and notings by various persons and authorities involved in the proceedings, and the appellant’s knowledge of the same would adversely affect the case, it was hit by Section 8(1)(h) of the Act and there was no obligation on the CPIO to furnish the requested information.

The CIC, however, was of the view that the appellant only wished to inquire about the number of reminders sent to the authorities and the status of his case. He neither sought any information which would impede the proceedings nor any personal information about the investigating officer and hence the CPIO should not have blatantly denied the request.

The CIC referred to the case of Bhagat Singh v. Chief Information Commissioner, 2007 SCC OnLine Del 1607 where the Delhi HC had held:

“[M]ere existence of an investigation process cannot be a ground for refusal of the information: the authority withholding information must show satisfactory reason as to why the release of such information would hamper the investigation process.”

Further, in Shri Sathya Narayanan v. Reserve Bank of India, CIC/SM/A/2010/001239/SG/14214) the CIC had also held that:

“[U]nless the CPIO establishes that the disclosure of the information would impede the process of investigation, the information cannot be refused.”

Hence the CIC found the denial of the request by the erstwhile CPIO as improper and imposed on him a penalty of Rs. 15,000 under Section 20 of the Act. [Prabhakar R Shinde v PIO, Department of Posts,2018 SCC OnLine CIC 313, decided on 21.05.2018]

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