Central Information Commission (CIC): Amita Pandove (Information Commissioner) held that,
“…information which is available in record or accessible by a public authority can only be provided under the RTI Act.”
“Appellant is not just pressurizing the Respondent public authority by seeking clarification/confirmation, but also harassing them by filing multiple queries followed by reminders, e-mail communications etc.”
“…under the provisions of the RTI Act, disclosure of information is a rule and non-disclosure is an exception.”
Information was sought by the appellant through an RTI Application. On being dissatisfied, the appellant had filed the first appeal in October, 2018 which had not been adjudicated by the First Appellate Authority.
Appellant filed a second appeal under Section 19 of the RTI Act and sought information.
On query by the commission, appellant informed the Commission that two written submissions had been filed on his behalf, to which the Commission cautioned the appellant to desist from such practice as the same was not in accordance with the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.
Respondent submitted that the information sought by the appellant was voluminous and the same was scattered in many files. He added that providing photocopies of all the information required collection/collation of data, which attracted Section 7(9) of the RTI Act.
Appellant interjected to state that how the Commission can adjudicate the aspect of voluminous information. Upon query by the Commission as to on what authority he is making this statement, he failed to provide a substantiating reply. The Commission yet again cautioned the Appellant for vitiating the proceedings of the instant hearing.
Coram noted that the appellant adopted a convoluted method to express the facts of the instant case.
Commission expressed that it is of the view that,
As much as the CPIO has a statutory responsibility to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act, applicants filing a request under RTI Act should also keep in mind that they should not transgress the letter and spirt of the RTI Act by flooding RTI Applications, which are cumbersome, protracted and circumlocutory in nature.
Commission admonished the appellant for going beyond the stipulated word limit, which troubled the respondent to ascertain what information had been sought and pertained to which Department.
Therefore, in Coram’s opinion the appellant instead of seeking information in a reasonable and comprehensible way resorted to adopting a tortuous method containing quite a lot of issues/queries in a disorganized manner, resulting in unfathomable hurdles on the part of the respondent.
Word of Caution by the Commission
“…Appellant being a responsible citizen who poses to be concerned about the functionality of the Respondent public authority must impliedly know his limitations while filing an RTI query before any Respondent public authority.
Commission strictly cautions him that in future, he shall holistically adhere to the relevant provisions of the RTI Rules, 2012 while filing any RTI Application before any public authority.”
Bench stated that the Appellant’s contention was rather preposterous because mere statements such as ‘involving larger public interest’ and ‘national interest’ do not suffice and the onus to prove the same lies with the Appellant.
Commission was put into doubt about the intention of the appellant whether he genuinely wants information or just wants to harass the Respondent public authority.
Majority of queries sought by the appellant were in respect to the PIO’s confirmation regarding certain aspects such as dates pertaining to commencing and concluding of certain constructions at Naval/Coast Guard berths, names of the vendors who were awarded contracts for the aforesaid construction, date of execution of the lease agreement etc. from the Respondent.
Information: Can the appellant seek any information under the sky?
Commission pointed out that though it is not mandatory to provide reasons for seeking information under the RTI Act, but the same does not mean that an applicant can seek all/any information under the sky.
Further, it was observed that appellant relatively misinterpreted the term “information”.
Photography: Is it allowed under the RTI Act?
In the present matter, appellant has argued that photography is allowed under the RTI Act under Section 2(j)(iv) of the RTI Act.
Bench while considering the importance of the services rendered by the respondent public authority to the country as well as considering the information sought by the Appellant in the instant RTI Application, held that photography of the averred documents/records/information cannot be allowed because the question of photography arises only if the condition of the document/record is in a dilapidated state and cannot be photocopied anymore by repeated handling.
Commission elaborated that the appellant in a cyclostyled manner framed the queries of the instant RTI Application, wherein he had specifically asked the PIO to ‘CONFIRM’ the commencing and concluding date of certain constructions, ‘CONFIRM’ whether the Respondent has a copy of the NGT’s Order pronounced on 02.09.2016 concerning to the dredging and other expansions of MPT etc., which is beyond the purview of Section 2(f) of the RTI Act.
Commission opined that the appellant was only on a mission to seek vengeance or has some personal vendetta against the respondent public authority.
Appellant understood that the provisions of the RTI Act can be twisted according to his whims and fancies as well as to his requirements.
It was added to the observations during the hearing, the Appellant rather made an attempt to mystify both the Commission as well as the Respondent by taking refuge on unconnected events or mentioning certain things without any proof.
The modus operandi adopted by the Appellant is nothing but a classic example of systematic persecution as well as wasting precious time of the public authority as well as the Commission at the cost of the public exchequer.
Commission finds that the Respondent has provided an opportunity to the Appellant to inspect the relevant records, which the Appellant is contesting till date, which is rather bizarre to note.
Commission further counselled the appellant that as per Section 6(1) of the RTI Act, Parliament made amply clear that while enacting the RTI Act it had categorically provided a right to an Indian citizen that he/she shall make a request and not requests.
Adding more to its remarks, Coram noted that Appellant rather appeared to have converted the provisions of the RTI Act as a tool of oppression/intimidation, which the Commission discourages outrightly.
Enough opportunity had been provided to the appellant to inspect the relevant records which he did not avail till date, hence no illegality was found on the part of the respondent for seeking proof of citizenship because considering the importance and sensitivity of the information sought in the instant RTI Application as well as the alleged antecedents of the appellant, the respondent public authority has on a selective basis and as a matter of abundant caution sought proof of citizenship from the Appellant.
Public authority has the liberty to seek proof of citizenship from an applicant, when he/she is seeking information, at times may be sensitive from security perspective and this concern can never be disregarded.
Keeping in view the totality of circumstances discussed above, the Commission found no infirmity in the information provided by the Respondent.
Therefore, the appeal was dismissed in view of the above terms. [Samir Sardana v. CPIO, Mormugao Port Trust; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 4310; decided on 10-05-2021]