Central Information Commission (CIC): A Single-Judge Bench comprising of Central Information Commissioner Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu issued a show-cause notice to Hockey India for not disclosing the information sought by the appellant.

BJP leader Kirti Azad filed an RTI application in the year 2015 seeking details of Hockey India League’s (HIL) registration certificate, details of expenditure, sponsorship, commission paid for getting sponsorships, and expenditure incurred in availing legal services along with the names of lawyers engaged by Hockey India (HI) and HIL in the last 2 years. Respondent responded stating that HIL is organized under the aegis of the Hockey India and the websites of HI and HIL contain the information sought. Dissatisfied with the response, appellant filed a first appeal which was responded by the first appellate authority stating that the information pertaining to sponsorships, fee paid to lawyers, etc fell within the domain of confidential information and hence due it could not be disclosed. Thereafter, the appellant moved to CIC which directed respondent to disclose the desired information. But the respondent moved to Delhi High Court challenging the said order, which remanded the matter back to CIC for fresh consideration. Hence, the present appeal.

Respondent contended that the RTI application was vitiated by private motives aimed at targeting a cabinet minister. However, this submission was dismissed holding that motives behind filing an RTI are irrelevant and the burden lies on the public authority to prove the invocation of an exception for denial of information.

Further, respondent averred that since the information pertaining to sponsors, commission, legal expenses, and lawyers engaged, etc. was confidential in nature; they could submit the same in sealed cover. Further, throughout the proceedings, respondent maintained the position that HIL is not connected to HI and thus it cannot be obliged to disclose information about HIL.

After hearing arguments on behalf of both the parties, the Commission made the following observations:

  • Financial details in the copy of sponsorship agreements submitted in sealed cover had been redacted as HI did not want the Bench to peruse the original agreements.
  • It dismissed HI’s argument that since the commission paid for securing sponsorship was not paid out of public money, such information need not be disclosed. CIC held the classification between expenditure by public money and non-public money, as illogical.
  • On the issue of names of lawyers engaged and fee paid to them, the Bench remarked that non-disclosure of the said information might be due to fear of being exposed to some serious scandal as HI might have paid huge amounts to non-eligible persons. This clearly fell within the scope of the public’s interest.
  • HI could not invoke Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act to exempt itself from disclosing information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property. Assuming that the sponsorship fee is in the nature of commercial confidence, HI had to prove whether there is any competition and by disclosing the information sought, what kind of harm would be caused.
  • Hockey India is not a sovereign entity and sport of hockey cannot be used for profit generation activities.

With the aforesaid observations, the Commission issued show cause notice to HI’s former president and present secretary-general Rajinder Singh asking him why maximum penalty should not be imposed against him, HI’s CPIO and the first appellate authority for not disclosing the information sought. [Kirti Azad v. CPIO, M/o Youth Affairs & Sports,2018 SCC OnLine CIC 1543, decided on 22-10-2018]

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