Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Uday Mahurkar, Information Commissioner, reiterated that the candidates/students have the right to access their own answer sheets as per the provisions of the Right to Information Act.

In the present matter, the appellant sought the information regarding his own answer sheets which were evaluated and marked for all the subjects under the Limited Departmental Competitive Examination for promotion to the cadre of Assistant Accounts Officer.

Appellant submitted that he should be provided with the same as per the Supreme Court decision. Further, he added that there has been adequate suspicion that the respondent may destroy the Answer Sheets related to the LDCE – AAO, 2018 exam citing its record retention policy. But the same was denied by the respondent and an assurance was provided that no such act had been undertaken to destroy the answer sheets related to the said exam.

Commission in a plethora of earlier decisions decided that answer sheets should be furnished to the applicants in his own case and the same stand was taken by the Commission in the present matter also.

Respondent had been citing the Supreme Court’s decision in UPSC v. Agnesh Kumar, (2018) 4 SCC 530, which was limited to the Competitive Exams and did not cover the Departmental Exams per se held by the Public Authorities nor was applicable to situations where it was prima facie made out that larger public interest was involved.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Commission stated that the issue involved in the present matter of candidate’s access to his/her own answer sheet has been long settled by the Supreme Court in the decision of CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497, wherein following was held:

“…every examinee will have the right to access his evaluated answer-books, by either inspecting them or taking certified copies thereof unless the same was exempted under Section 8 (1) (e) of the RTI Act, 2005.”

Relevant observation from the above decision:

“11. The definition of „information‟ in Section 2(f) of the RTI Act refers to any material in any form which includes records, documents, opinions, papers among several other enumerated items. The term „record‟ is defined in section 2(i) of the said Act as including any document, manuscript or file among others. When a candidate participates in an examination and writes his answers in an answer-book and submits it to the examining body for evaluation and declaration of the result, the answer-book is a document or record. When the answer-book is evaluated by an examiner appointed by the examining body, the evaluated answer-book becomes a record containing the ‘opinion’ of the examiner. Therefore, the evaluated answer-book is also an ‘information’ under the RTI Act.”

In the Supreme Court decision of Mradul Mishra v. Chairman, UPSC, Civil Appeal 6723 of 2018 it was held that:

“14. In our opinion, permitting a candidate to inspect the answer sheet does not involve any public interest nor does it affect the efficient operation of the Government. There are issues of confidentiality and disclosure of sensitive information that may arise, but those have already been taken care of in the case of Aditya Bandopadhyay where it has categorically been held that the identity of the examiner cannot be disclosed for reasons of confidentiality.

  1. That being the position, we have no doubt that the Appellant is entitled to inspect the answer sheets. Accordingly, we direct the Respondent – U.P. Public Service Commission to fix the date, time and place where the Appellant can come and inspect the answer sheet within four weeks.” 

What is the link between the permission to access the answer sheet and the candidate’s right to life and livelihood?

Hence, in view of the above elaborative discussion, Commission held that the present issue involved larger public interest affecting the fate of all the students/candidate who wishes to obtain information regarding their own answer sheet which would have a bearing on their own career and in turn would ostensibly affect the right to life and livelihood.

Therefore, allowing a student to inspect their own answer sheet ought to be allowed as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.

Decision

Therefore, in the present matter, the Commission directed the respondent to furnish a copy of the candidate’s own answer sheet as sought in the RTI Application within a period of 30 days from the receipt of this order.

In view of the above, appeal was disposed of. [Venu C v. CPIO, General Manager (Finance) Postal Accounts, Department of Post; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 4306; decided on 24-05-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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.

Commission’s Decision

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]

Case Briefs

Delhi High Court: In a petition seeking direction to quash the order of Central Information Commission, Jayant Nath, J. observed, “…where a public authority takes recourse to Section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act to withhold information, the burden is on the public authority to show that in what manner disclosure of such information could impede the investigation.”

Petitioner filed an RTI application on 05-09-2016 under Rule 6 of the RTI Act, 2005, seeking pointwise disclosure of information mentioned at serial no. 5(i) to 5(xxv). It is the case of the petitioner that the CPIO did not provide the correct information in respect of point 5(i) of the RTI application and further misled on other issues. The first appeal was filed by the petitioner on 10-10-2016 followed by a second appeal before the second appellate authority CIC. The grievance of the petitioner is precisely that, the respondent believed verbal submissions of the CPIO instead of the written submissions of the petitioner and allowed them to sustain their stand for non-disclosure by claiming exemption under Section 8(1) (h) of the RTI Act.

Court made a passing remark on the default committed by the petitioner, by not giving the entire personal details relevant in seeking the information so made. However, it decided to examine the impugned order of the CIC only on merits.

The order of the CIC dismissing appeal rested on the fact that disciplinary proceedings, as initiated by CBI, were pending against the petitioner and therefore the matter was covered under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. In light of the said finding, Court referred a catena of judgments based on non-disclosure of the information under Section 8.

  1. Director of Income Tax v. Bhagat Singh, MANU/DE/9178/2007; Court observed in the words, “Under Section 8(1)(h) information can be withheld if it would impede investigation, apprehension or prosecution of offenders. It is for the appellant to show how and why investigation will be impeded by disclosing information to the appellant. General statements are not enough. Apprehension should be based on some ground or reason.” [Reiterated in Union of India v. Manjit Singh Bali, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 10394] 
  2. Bhagat Singh v. CIC, (2008) 100 DRJ 63; Court made a significant observation with respect to the interplay of Section 3 and Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005 and further remarked, “Access to information, under Section 3 of the Act, is the rule and exemptions under Section 8, the exception. Section 8 being a restriction on this fundamental right, must therefore is to be strictly construed. It should not be interpreted in manner as to shadow the very right itself. Under Section 8, exemption from releasing information is granted if it would impede the process of investigation or the prosecution of the offenders. It is apparent that the mere existence of an investigation process cannot be a ground for refusal of the information; the authority withholding information must show satisfactory reasons as to why the release of such information would hamper the investigation process. Such reasons should be germane, and the opinion of the process being hampered should be reasonable and based on some material. Sans this consideration, Section 8 (1) (h) and other such provisions would become the haven for dodging demands for information.”
  3. S. Mathur v. Public Information Officer of Delhi HC, 2011 SCC OnLine Del 2592; is a case wherein the petitioner was placed under suspension pending disciplinary action and the Court therein held, “The scheme of the RTI Act, its objects and reasons indicate that disclosure of information is the rule and non-disclosure the exception. A public authority which seeks to withhold information available with it has to show that the information sought is of the nature specified in Section 8 RTI Act. As regards Section 8(1)(h) RTI Act, which is the only provision invoked by the Respondent to deny the Petitioner the information sought by him, it will have to be shown by the public authority that the information sought “would impede the process of investigation.” The mere reproducing of the wording of the statute would not be sufficient when recourse is had to Section 8(1)(h) RTI Act.”

The Court conclusively said that the impugned order only reveals that a chargesheet has been filed but no reasons are spelt out as to how the investigation might get hampered by disclosing the information as asked by the petitioner. In the absence of the same, Court directed back the matter to the CIC for consideration.[Amit Kumar Shrivastava v. Central Information Commission,2021 SCC OnLine Del 336, decided on 05-02-2021]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Prathiba M. Singh, J., upheld that order of the Central Information Commission whereby a penalty of Rs 10000 was imposed on the petitioners for changing stands while not providing the information as sought by the applicant under the RTI Act.

The instant petition was filed by two officers working with the Union Bank of India as Central Public Information Officers (CPIO).

The above-two officers challenged the impugned Order passed by the Central Information Commission vide which penalties amounting to Rs 10,000 were imposed upon them.

Background

An RTI application was filed by the applicant who was the Chief Manager at the Union Bank of India wherein he sought the following information:

Details of the Board approval along with justification for giving exemption with regard to 3 years branch head service.

The Office of the CPIO had informed the applicant that copy of the board note, being an internal document of commercial confidence would be exempted from disclosure.

Even the appellant authority stated that the copy of the board approval was exempted from being disclosed under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act.

In the second appeal with regard to the matter, CIC found that there was no reason why complete information was not provided to the applicant and held that the responses provided were rather incomplete and evasive. Therefore, a show-cause notice to the CPIOs of the bank was issued.

On receiving the above show cause notice, the CPIOs responded stating that the information which was sought could not be found on record. Due to the change in stand by the petitioners, CIC imposed a penalty of Rs 10,000 under Section 20 of the RTI Act.

Analysis and Decision

Bench referred to this Court’s decision in R.K Jain v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 10957  wherein it was recognized that the CPIO, being the custodian of information or documents sought for, is primarily responsible under the scheme of the RTI Act to supply the information, and in cases of default, the penal action is to be invoked against the CPIO only.

In the decision of Registrar of Companies v. Dharmendra Kumar Garg (WP(C) 11271/2009, decided on 1st June, 2012), the role of CPIOs under the RTI Act was elaborately dealt with.

Further, in the decision of J.P. Agrawal v. Union of India, (WP(C) 7232/2009, decided on 4th August, 2011) the Single Judge recognized that:

CPIOs/PIOs are not merely “post offices” and have a crucial responsibility in facilitating the purpose of the RTI Act.

 In light of the above decisions, the High Court laid down the following principles:

i)  CPIO/PIOs cannot withhold information without reasonable cause;

ii)  A PIO/CPIO cannot be held responsible if they have genuinely rejected the information sought on valid grounds permissible under the Act. A mere difference of opinion on the part of CIC cannot lead to an imposition of penalty under Section 20 of the RTI Act;

iii)  Government departments ought not to be permitted to evade disclosure of information. Diligence has to be exercised by the said departments, by conducting a thorough search and enquiry, before concluding that the information is not available or traceable;

iv) Every effort should be made to locate information, and the fear of disciplinary action would work as a deterrent against the suppression of information for vested interests;

v) PIO/CPIO cannot function merely as “post offices” but instead are responsible to ensure that the information sought under the RTI Act is provided;

vi) A PIO/CPIO has to apply their mind, analyze the material, and then direct disclosure or give reasons for non-disclosure. The PIO cannot rely upon subordinate officers;

vii) Duty of compliance lies upon the PIO/CPIO. The exercise of power by the PIO/CPIO has to be with objectivity and seriousness the PIO/CPIO cannot be casual in their approach.

viii) Information cannot be refused without reasonable cause.

Conclusion

Hence, the Court held that under the RTI Act, the CPIOs have a solemn responsibility.

Section 5(3) requires that every CPIO or SPIO shall deal with requests for information and `render reasonable assistance’ to the persons seeking information.

CPIOs or SPIOs can seek assistance from higher/other officials in the organisation in order to enable them to furnish the information sought for the `proper discharge’ of their duties, as per Section 5(4).

 In the present matter, CPIOs changed their stands which would go on to show that there was an intention to withhold certain important documents or information, leading to the finding of mala fides and unreasonable conduct.

In light of the above, Court opined that the penalty imposed could not be faulted with. However, considering the fact that both the CPIOs since retired from the service of the Bank, the penalty was reduced to Rs 5,000 each. [Rakesh Kumar Gupta (Erstwhile CPIO) Union Bank of India v. CIC, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 194, decided on 22-01-2021]


Advocates for the parties:

For the Petitioners: Mr O.P. Gaggar, Advocate.

For the Respondents: Mr Gaurang Kanth, Standing Counsel with Mr Aman Singh Bakhshi, Advocate.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner) held that:

“Since filing of the Income Tax Returns by an individual with the Income Tax Department is not a public activity and rather it is in the nature of an obligation which a citizen owes to the State viz. to pay his taxes, this information could not be disclosed to the appellant in the absence of any larger public interest.”

In the instant application, the appellant sought the following information from the CPIO, Income Tax Officer:

  • “Please inform name and branch address of all those banks wherein my spouse Ms Mamta Arora was having account, at any point of time, during the financial years 2012-2013 to 2017-2018, the information is requested financial year-wise, the date of opening and closure of each bank account concerned be also informed and if any of the account is functional till the date of disposal of this application, then its functional status be also informed. The PAN card number of my spouse is APSPM8586N and her Aadhaar Card number is 319568028653.
  • Please provide details as to name and branch address of all those banks wherein my spouse Ms Mamta Arora has held any account, at any point of time, during the present financial year 2018- 2019. Date of opening and closure of each bank account concerned be also informed and if any of the bank accounts is functional till the date of disposal of this application, then its functional status is also informed.
  • Please inform what were the income tax slabs, for all the categories i.e. males, females, senior citizens etc. during the financial years 2012-2013 to 2017-2018, for assessment of income tax on the annual income of any resident Indian individual Etc.”

On being dissatisfied with CPIO’s response, appellant filed the instant second appeal before the Commission requesting to take appropriate legal action against the CPIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act and also to direct him to provide the sought-for information.

Decision

Commission observed that the opening words of Section 11 of the RTI Act are “CPIO…intends to disclose” which indicate that the procedure of Section 11 has to be followed only if CPIO intends to disclose the third party information.

Bench deduced that the CPIO is expected to follow the procedure of Section 11 when he “intends to disclose any information on record”.

Since the CPIO found no merit in disclosure, hence Section 11 was not invoked. Further, with regard to applicability of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 for non-disclosure of the third party bank details and Income Tax returns Commission referred to the Supreme Court’ decision in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission, (2013) 1 SCC 212.

Legal Issue

Whether the appellant claiming to be the legally wedded husband is entitled to seek information regarding his wife’s bank details and income tax returns?

To answer the stated question, Commission referred to the decision of Delhi High Court in Vijay Prakash v. UOI,2009 SCC OnLine Del 1731, wherein it was clarified that in a private dispute between husband and wife, the basic protection afforded by virtue of the exemption from disclosure enacted under Section 8(1)(j) cannot be lifted or disturbed unless the petitioner is able to justify how such disclosure would be in ‘public interest’.

Commission referred to the following decisions in regard to the disclosure of the information as sought in the instant application was of not larger interest:

[Bombay High Court] Shailesh Gandhi v. CIC, WP No. 8753 of 2013

[Delhi High Court] Naresh Kumar Trehan v. Rakesh Kumar Gupta, WP(C) No. 85 of 2010, 24-11-2014.

[Delhi High Court] Harish Kumar v. Provost Marshall, LPA No. 253 of 2012, 30-03-2012.

In light of Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005 bench stated that Ms Mamta Arora being a person other than the RTI applicant came within the definition of ‘third party’.

Hence, while concluding the decision, Commission held that the in view of the above-decision, Bench opined that in the absence of any larger public interest in the matter, the appellant was not entitled to seek information regarding the bank details and income tax returns of his wife which is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

Appeal was disposed of in view of the above. [Pawan Kumar Saluja v. CPIO, Income Tax Officer; Second Appeal No. CIC/CCITD/S/2019/120284; decided on 05-01-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner) decide whether a legally wedded wife can seek the information regard to income tax returns of her husband under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The instant application was filed before the CPIO, Income Tax Officer seeking the following information:

  1. “The copy of Form 16 issued by the company at Micro Focus Software Development, ‘LAUREL’, Block ‘D’, 65/2, Bagmane Techpark, C.V. Raman Nagar, Bengaluru for the year filed for 2016- 17, 2017-2018 & 2018-2019 of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.
  2. The relevant documents/papers relating to the Gross Annual Income of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.
  3. The relevant documents/papers relating to the Gross salary of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.”

The appellant filed the first appeal dated 11-01-2019 which was disposed of by the first appellate authority on 05-03-2019.

Thereafter, she filed a second appeal under Section 19(3) of the RTI Act before the Commission requesting to take appropriate legal action against the CPIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act, 2005 and also to direct him to provide the sought-for information.

Decision

Commission referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. CIC, (2013) 1 SCC 212 with regard to the applicability of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Legal Issue to be decided

Whether the appellant claiming to be the legally wedded wife of Mr Suman Chatterjee is entitled to seek details of his income tax returns i.e. Form 16?

In regard to the above question, Commission referred to the Delhi High Court decision in Vijay Prakash v. UOI,2009 SCC OnLine Del 1731, wherein it was clarified that in a private dispute between husband and wife, the basic protection afforded by virtue of exemption from disclosure enacted under Section 8(1)(j) cannot be lifted or disturbed unless the petitioner is able to justify how such disclosure would be in ‘public interest’.

Bench noted that in the present matter, the appellant did not succeed in establishing the information sought was for a larger public purpose.

Commission decided that since the filing of income tax returns by an individual is not a public activity and rather it is in the nature of an obligation which a citizen owes to the State. The said information cannot be disclosed to the appellant in the absence of any larger public interest.

Further adding to the above analysis, Bench stated that according to Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005 any person other than the citizen making a request for information can be termed as ‘third party’. Therefore, appellant being a person other than the RTI applicant surely comes within the definition of ‘third party’.

Bench did not find any public interest which outweighs the harm caused in its disclosure.

In light of several decisions of the Supreme Court and High Court, Commission opined that in the absence of any larger public interest in the matter, the appellant was not entitled to seek the details of the Income Tax returns filed by the third party, Mr Suman Chatterjee which is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Another significant point to be noted was that the appellant sought the disclosure of at least the ‘gross annual income’ of her husband so that she could defend her matrimonial case. Considering the said marital discord between the husband and wife vis-à-vis her right of maintenance, Commission opined that the respondent should consider providing the numerical figures of the gross annual income of her husband.

In light of the above observations, appeal was disposed of. [Amrita Chatterjee v. CPIO, Income Tax Officer; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 40; decided on 08-01-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Saroj Punhani, J., directed the CPIO of CBI to provide a cogent and descriptive justification for denying information to the appellant seeking certain information relating to lookout notice, detention notice, etc. issued against Vijay Mallya.

In the instant matter, appellant has sought information through eight points pertaining to lookout notice/detention notice/circular (LoC) issued on October 2015 relating to Vijay Mallya:

  • Furnish a copy of Lookout notice/detention notice /Lookout Circular (LoC) issued on October 12, 2015, and /or October 16, 2015, and or Lookout notice/detention notice / Lookout Circular (LoC) in October 2015 relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Furnish a Copy of Lookout circular (LoC) inform notice/Lookout on arrival Circular (LoC) etc. issued on 24 November, 2015, or last week in November 2015 relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Provide the Name and Designation of Officer who authorized to change/ alter /from Lookout notice /Lookout circular (LoC) detention notice issued on October 12, 2015, or October 16, 2015, to Lookout Circular (LoC) inform notice/Lookout on arrival Circular (LoC) etc issued in last week of November, 2015 or November 24, 2015, relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Provide a Copy of Act, Guidelines, Circulars, Notifications, office Memorandum Rules and Regulations, Copy of Act etc relating to Lookout notice/ detention notice /Lookout Circular (LoC) was issued on October 12, 2015 / Lookout circular (Loc) in October 2015 relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Furnish a Copy of Act, Guidelines, Circulars, Notifications, Office Memorandum Rules and Regulations, Copy of Act etc relating to Lookout Circular (LoC) inform notice etc issued in last week of November 2015, or November 24, 2015, relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Telephone Number and Email Id of central public Information officer and Appellate Authority as per official Memorandum of Dept of personnel and training available on www.rti.qov.in > Circulars.
  •  Exact web link of the above information on your official web site in compliance to Dept of Personnel &_ Training, circulars guidelines e.g.No.1/1/2013-IR/2014 uploading of RTI replies etc. issued from time to time.

On being dissatisfied with CPIO’s information, the appellant had filed a first appeal dated 10-11-2018, later FAA’s order upheld the CPIO’s reply.

Appellant stated that the square denial of the information sought for under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act by the CPIO & the FAA is not appropriate as the case pertains to tenable allegations of corruption against Vijay Mallya for defaulting a loan of over Rs 9000 crore which is effectively public money and therefore the said information was crucial for the citizens.

CPIO submitted that primarily the appellant’s queries do not seem to be very clear in terms of the guidelines he referred to. Further, it was stated that at the time of the RTI application’s reply, the extradition case of Vijay Mallya was pending before the Court of Law in London and as on date two cases against him are pending investigation, in one of these cases the Chargesheet had been filed, while in the other case, the investigation is underway.

In view of the above-stated reasons, the information sought for was denied to the appellant under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

Decision

The commission observed that neither the CPIO’s reply nor the FAA’s order conveyed the proper reasons for invoking Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

Bench directed the CPIO to provide a reply to the appellant incorporating a cogent and descriptive justification for denying the information sought for under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

Appeal was disposed of in view of the above-stated. [Vihar Durve v. CPIO, CBI; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 2; decided on 12-01-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Suresh Chandra (Information Commissioner) observed that disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts may be in contravention of Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act.

Facts of the Case

The appellant filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 before the Central Public Information Officer, State Bank of India seeking the following information:

  • Furnish me (Yearwise from 2017 to 2018) the relevant portion of Statutory Report/Audit Report/any other report/certificates submitted by Chartered Accountants relating to Electoral Bonds from the books of accounts of SBI.
  • Guidelines, Circulars, Notifications, Office Memorandum Rules and Regulations, Copy of Act etc. issued to Statutory Auditor i.e. to Chartered Accountants to conduct relating to certification/audit/signing of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance of Electoral Bonds.
  • Name and Designation of Officer who is supposed to issue Guidelines, Circulars, Notifications, Office Memorandum Rules and Regulations, Copy of Act relating to certification of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance by Statutory Report i.e. Chartered Accountants relating to Electoral Bonds.
  • Furnish me (Yearwise from 2017 to 2018) relevant portion Accounting Standards, Guidance Notes applicable to conduct the certification/audit/signing of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance of Electoral Bonds.
  • Whether the details of Donor and Donee are available to Chartered Accountants relating to Electoral Bonds while certification/audit/signing of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance of Electoral Bonds.
  • Details of Donor and Donee made available to Chartered Accountants relating to Electoral Bonds while certification/audit/signing of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance of Electoral Bonds.
  • Details of Donor and Donee of Electoral Bonds from the books of accounts of (a) SBI Mumbai Main Branch Code 00300 (b) SBI Chennai Main Branch Code 00800 (c) SBI Kolkata Main Branch Code 00001 d) SBI New Delhi Main Branch Code 00691.
  • Letter written by Election Commission to The Secretary, Legislature Department Ministry of Law and Justice, Shastri Bhavan New Delhi relating to Electoral Bonds and its impact on Transparency, corruption in India.
  • Details/Records, Correspondence and the impact of certain amendments in the Income Tax Act, the Representation of the People Act 1951 and the Companies Act 2013 to introduce/issue Electoral Bonds for funding political parties of Transparency, corruption in India.
  • Telephone No. and Email ID of CPIO and Appellate Authority as per Official Memorandum of Det of Personnel and Training available on www.rti.gov.in>Circulars.

Dissatisfied with the response, the instant second appeal was filed before this Commission.

Appellant submitted that CPIO’s response was wrong, incomplete and misleading.

Further, the appellant pleaded that the SBI was supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of political parties and that the SBI was not in fiduciary capacity with any political party and hence had no legal duty to maximize the benefit of any public sector or private sector bank; there was no relationship of “trust” between them.

Adding to the above, appellant requested the Commission to direct the CPIO to provide the complete information and take necessary action as per Section 20(1) of the RTI Act.

With respect to point nos. 6 and 7 of the RTI application it was stated that the information in respect to those points was exempted under Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of RTI Act; information in respect of point no. 11 of the RTI application was not covered within the definition of “information” under Section 2 (f) of RTI Act and no link was maintained in respect of point no. 12 of the RTI Application.

The FAA held that the information relating to electoral bonds issued to various political parties sought by the appellant was held by the bank in fiduciary capacity and hence was denied to the appellant.

Decision

Commission of perusal of the facts and circumstances observed that the respondent revisited the RTI application and reiterated its earlier stand in respect of pint nos 6 and 7 of RTI application that disclosure of the information was exempted under the provisions of Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act.

Bench upheld the respondent’s contention that the disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts may be in contravention of Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act.

While parting with order, Commission stated that there appeared no larger public interest overriding the right to privacy of the concerned donor and donees.

Hence, the appeal was dismissed. [Vihar Durve v. CPIO, SBI; 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 1327; decided on 21-12-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Amit Pandove (Information Commissioner) while addressing the present appeal observed the essence of Section 6(3) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

In the instant, RTI application information was sought pertaining to the Group-A officers who were drawing reimbursement of tuition fee for their children along with those who had adopted children.

CPIO provided a reply to the appellant and on being dissatisfied, appellant filed the first appeal, FAA upheld the CPIO’s reply.

Aggrieved by the above order, the second appeal was filed under Section 19 of the Right to Information Act on the ground that incomplete information was furnished by the respondent. By the second appeal, the applicant requested Commission to take disciplinary action against the CPIO concerned and sought direction towards CPIO to provide the information.

Appellant submitted that the respondent furnished partial information in response to his RTI application. It was further submitted that the adoption certificate was not provided to him till date on the ground that the original documents are not available in respondent’s office.

Appellant contended that if the service book was not available in their office, the respondent should have transferred the RTI application to the division concerned as per the provision contained in Section 6(3) of the RTI Act.

Respondent submitted that since the then CPIO, was not sure as to where the service book was, he did not transfer the RTI application.

Decision

Commission observed that as per Section 6(3) of the RTI Act, where an application is made to a public authority but the subject matter of the RTI application pertains to another public authority, the CPIO of the public authority receiving the RTI application has to transfer the same to the public authority concerned within 5 days of receipt of the application.

In the present case, the then CPIO instead of transferring of application to the authority concerned merely stated that the information sought for was not available in their office.

The above-stated merely indicates the vacuous and lackadaisical approach towards matters relating to RTI.

Commission taking every serious view of the lapse, stated that,

“Public information officers are entrusted with the responsibility of providing information to the citizen under the RTI Act and it is expected that the CPIO on receipt of a request shall as expeditiously as possible provide the information sought for by the applicant.”

In the instant case, it is pertinent to note that, not only the then CPIO failed to comply by the provisions of the RTI Act, the FAA also disregarded the same.

In view of the foregoing, the Commission directs the respondent to furnish a categorical reply to the appellant with respect to the adoption documents sought by him, as per the provisions of the RTI Act. [Mallikarjun v. CPIO, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 989, decided on 21-10-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Y.K. Sinha (Information Commissioner), reiterated the Commission’s position that, offices of President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Governors, Lt. Governors and Chief Ministers are not legally obliged under RTI Act to entertain RTI applications seeking information unrelated to it, or not held or controlled by these high offices.

Classical status to the Marathi Language

Appellant filed the instant RTI application seeking information on the following three points regarding granting classical status to the Marathi Language:

  1. Reasons behind such a speedy policy or quick administrative decisions, for granting classical status to Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Oriya languages, within a span of one or two years.
  2. Reasons behind the policies or administrative decisions, for the delay or denial to bestow the classical language status on the Marathi language, pending since from 2013, with the government.
  3. Reasons behind the discrimination, indignity and injustice inflicted by the government, on the Marathi speaking citizens in comparison to Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Oriya speaking citizens w.r.t. bestowing classical language status policy or decisions.

For the above-sought information, CPIO, PMO directed the appellant concerned to directly file his RTI with Public Authority concerned.

Dissatisfied with the CPIO’s response, appellant had filed the First Appeal and further on being dissatisfied with FA’s response, appellant approached the Commission with instant Second Appeal.

Analysis & Decision

Bench stated that appellant instead of filing the RTI application with the PMO should have filed it with the Public Authority concerned being the custodian of information.

With a view to addressing such a situation, at the very formative stage of the RTI Act, the entire scope of Section 6 of the RTI Act had been discussed and interpreted threadbare by a Full Bench of this Commission in Ketan Kantilal Modi v. Central Board of Excise and Customs, CIC/AT/A/2008/01280 and based on this decision, Commission’s Full Bench had decided in R.S Gupta v. L.G office, held that,

“…..The offices of President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Governors, Lt. Governors and Chief Ministers are not legally obliged under RTI Act to entertain RTI applications seeking information unrelated to it, or not held or controlled by these high offices….”

(Emphasis supplied)

Queries raised by the Appellant in points 2 and 3 of the RTI application are interrogatory/ clarificatory/ hypothetical in nature seeking the opinion of the Public Authority official which is clearly beyond the scope of the duties/ responsibilities of a CPIO under the Act.

Hence, in view of the above discussion, the instant second appeal was dismissed and the appellant advised to refrain in future from seeking information under the RTI Act by filing such applications before public authorities who are not the custodians of information.[S.V. Deshpande v. PIO, PMO; 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 1004, decided on 09-10-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Amita Pandove (Information Commissioner) while addressing the present second appeal observed that the exemption of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act can only be claimed when the information sought relates to the personal information of a third party.

Information Sought

Appellant had sought certified copies of the delivery sheet of the article/ registered speed post letter along with the date and time and name of the postman who delivered the same to the concerned authorities.

CPIO denied the information under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005 talks about Exemption from disclosure of information

(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Appellate Authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information:

Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.

On being dissatisfied, the first appeal was sought and on the ground of unsatisfactory reply in the first appeal from the respondent, Second Appeal was filed under Section 19 of the RTI Act.

Section 19: Appeal

(1) Any person who, does not receive a decision within the time specified in sub-section (1) or clause (a) of sub-section (3) of Section 7, or is aggrieved by a decision of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, may within thirty days from the expiry of such period or from the receipt of such a decision prefer an appeal to such officer who is senior in rank to the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer as the case may be, in each public authority:

Provided that such officer may admit the appeal after the expiry of the period of thirty days if he or she is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal in time.

(2) Where an appeal is preferred against an order made by a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, under Section 11 to disclose third-party information, the appeal by the concerned third party shall be made within thirty days from the date of the order.

(3) A second appeal against the decision under sub-section (1) shall lie within ninety days from the date on which the decision should have been made or was actually received, with the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission:

Provided that the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be, may admit the appeal after the expiry of the period of ninety days if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal in time.

(4) If the decision of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, against which an appeal is preferred relates to information of a third party, the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, shall give a reasonable opportunity of being heard to that third party.

(5) In any appeal proceedings, the onus to prove that a denial of a request was justified shall be on the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, who denied the request.

(6) An appeal under sub-section (1) or sub-section (2) shall be disposed of within thirty days of the receipt of the appeal or within such extended period not exceeding a total of forty-five days from the date of filing thereof, as the case may be, for reasons to be recorded in writing.

(7) The decision of the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, shall be binding.

(8) In its decision, Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, has the power to

(a) require the public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this Act, including—

(i) by providing access to information, if so requested, in a particular form;

(ii) by appointing a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be;

(iii) by publishing certain information or categories of information;

(iv) by making necessary changes to its practices in relation to the maintenance, management and destruction of records;

(v) by enhancing the provision of training on the right to information for its officials;

(vi) by providing it with an annual report in compliance with clause (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 4;

(b) require the public authority to compensate the complainant for any loss or other detriment suffered;

(c) impose any of the penalties provided under this Act;

(d) reject the application.

(9) The Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, shall give notice of its decision, including any right of appealto the complainant and the public authority.

(10) The Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, shall decide the appeal in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed.

Decision

Commission observed that an appropriate reply has not been furnished to the appellant.

Exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act

Further, it was noted that the exemption of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act can only be claimed when the information sought relates to the personal information of a third party, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public interest and would cause an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the third party.

In the present matter, the bench noted that the information sought was not the personal information of a third party, hence exemption Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act would not be applicable in the present case.

While disposing of the present appeal and considering the above-noted facts, along with the fact that RTI Act supersedes any departmental rules, the Commission directed the respondent to furnish due information to the appellant. [S. Muthumalai v. CPIO, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 946, decided on 17-09-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench of Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula, JJ., held that the attendance record is a part of service record which is a matter between the employee and employer governed by the service rules and come under the category of “personal information”.

Present appeal is directed against the Single Judge’s Judgment dated 12-05-2020 in WP (C) 8352 of 2018, whereby the appellant’s petition impugning the order passed by respondent 3 declining to furnish the requested information under the Delhi Right to Information Act, 2001 has been rejected.

Appellant had filed the present appeal under the DRTI Act, 2001 before respondent 5 and 6 seeking information pertaining to Geeta Senior Secondary School, Delhi with regard to his attendance record for the period from 2015 to March, 2017 and also of the rest of the staff members serving in the same school.

Further, it has been stated that the copy of the attendance register was provided to him, however, information concerning the other staff members was declined on the ground that information requested was exempted under Section 8(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Hence aggrieved with the above situation, the appeal was filed under Section 7 of the DRTI Act before the Public Grievance Commission (PGC).

Single Judge of this court had dismissed the appeal noting that the appellant had received his personal information and that there was no infirmity in the order refusing to furnish information pertaining to other staff members of the school. Further, he noted that in view of Section 22 of the RTI Act, Section 8(1) (j) and the principle stated therein would apply to the facts of the present matter.

Decision

 Bench stated that under Section 7 of the DRTI Act any person aggrieved by an order of the competent authority or any person who has not received any order from the competent authority within 30 working days may appeal to the Public Grievances Commission.

Respondent 3 failed to demonstrate that how respondent 3 could not act as the Appellant Authority. Further, Department of Education categorically stated on record that from 2008 onwards, salary to employees of aided schools is disbursed through the ECS, and therefore, it is not necessary to send a copy of the attendance register along with salary bills for such disbursal.

Appellant also sought the attendance record of the other staff members of the School, Court stated that since the said information related to attendance, it would entail revealing medical and personal information of an individual.

Attendance record is part of service record which is a matter between the employee and the employer and ordinarily these aspects are governed by the service rules which fall under the expression “personal information”.

Court observed that in absence of even a remote connection with any larger public interest, disclosure of the information would be exempted as the same would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual under section 8(1) (j) of the RTI Act.

Hence, the petition failed to establish that the information sought for is for any public interest, much less ‘larger public interest’.

Therefore Court declined to entertain the present appeal. [Dr R.S. Gupta v. GNCTD, LPA No. 207 of 2020, decided on 31-08-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Amita Pandove (Information Commissioner) disposed of the second appeal filed seeking information regarding the tea stall that was issued to the father of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Appellant filed an RTI application sought information on regarding following points:

  • What was the lease period of the tea stall of Shri Damodar Das, father of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, located at Vadnagar Railway station under Ahemdabad Railway Division and when was the license for that tea stall issued?
  • Provide a certified copy of the relevant documents regarding the date on which permit and license was issued by the Railway Department to the said tea stall/shop, located at Vadnagar Railway station.
  • Provide a certified copy of the advertisement issued by the then Railway Authority for the establishment of the said tea stall/shop.
    And other related information.

Appellant did not receive any information for the above-stated and hence filed the first appeal which was not disposed of by the FAA.

Appellant filed the second appeal under Section 19 of the RTI Act on the ground of non-receipt of information by the respondent.

Bench on perusal of the submission of the parties and records directed the respondent to file an affidavit with the Commission deposing that RTI application and first appeal of the appellant were not received by him prior to 17-06-2020.

Commission, further directed the respondent to depose in his affidavit that no record relating to information sought is available with him as per RTI provision, hence no information can be provided to the complainant.

In view of the above-stated observations, the appeal was disposed of. [Pawan Prik v. CPIO, CIC/WRAIL/A/2018/168251, decided on 28-07-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Y.K. Sinha (Information Commissioner) addressed an RTI application filed seeking the following information:

  1. Names of students of Class 8th and 12th students who were given admission under EWS Quota for the session 2017-18. Provide information in detail.
  2. Names of Class 12th students who fall under EWS Quota in the final year.
  3. Provide the names of parents/Guardians of Class 8th and 12th students who were given admission under EWS Quota in the year 2017-18.
  4. Provide copies income certificates submitted by Class 8th and 12th students who were enrolled under EWS Quota in the year 2017-18?

Applicant on being dissatisfied with the response and aggrieved with the same approached the Commission with the instant second appeal.

Respondents stated that data about online registration of students is available since the year 2018-19, while the appellant seeks information pertaining to the academic year 2017- 18, hence the information could not be readily provided.

He further explained that before the implementation of the Right to Education Act, admissions to students from economically weaker sections were given under the freeship quota. The registration of students under EWS quota is not done at the stage of class 8 or 12, hence data sought by the appellant is not readily available.

Hence, in view of the above, the information sought by the appellant could not be readily provided.

Decision

Commission noted that the reply of the respondent that information about admissions under EWS[Economically Weaker Section] quota is not available in their office is totally unacceptable.

The respondent being the regulatory authority of all educational institutions cannot remain oblivious nor avoid questions relating to such crucial information which involves the implementation of the Right to Education Act.

Further, the commission added that information about names and particulars of students is personal information held by the school in a fiduciary capacity disclosure of which would invade the privacy of the concerned children.

RTE Act makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools, requiring all private schools(except the minority institutions) to reserve 25% of seats for children belonging to the economically weaker section of society.

Respondent was directed to provide information about the total number of students, if any, admitted under EWS quota in Class 8 and Class 12 for the academic year 2017-18.

Appeal was disposed of in the above terms.[Anita Chaudhary v. PIO, DDE-ZONE II, Dte, of Education, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 731, decided on 09-06-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Bimal Julka, Chief Information Commissioner, instructed Ministry of Law and Justice.to examine the RTI Application to provide a clear, cogent and precise response to the appellant.

Appellant sought information regarding the photocopy of the request sent by the Government of India to Chief Justices of High Courts for ensuring due consideration to be given to suitable candidates belonging to SCs, STs, OBCs, Minorities and Women while sending proposals for appointment as Judges of those High Courts; photocopy of all replies received from Chief Justices, if any, till the date of RTI application.

Commission observed that RTI Act, 2005 stipulated time limits in its various provisions relating to responding to RTI Applications, transfer of applications, filing and disposing of first appeal to ensure that a culture of information dissemination is strengthened so that a robust functioning of the democracy gets established. 

Commission also noted that it should be the endeavour of the CPIO to ensure that maximum assistance should be provided to the RTI applicants to ensure the flow of information.

Commission instructs the Respondent to FAA, D/o Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice to examine the RTI Application/ First Appeal and provide a clear, cogent and precise response to the Appellant within a period of 30 days.

In view of the above, appeal was disposed of. [Venkatesh Nayak v. CPIO & Secy., Ministry of Law and Justice, CIC/JUSTC/A/2018/153653-BJ, decided on 24-07-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Information Commissioner, Suresh Chandra, partly allowed a second appeal filed before him in an issue related to non-receipt of the information raised by the appellant through his RTI application.

The appellant filed an application on 25-08-2015 under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) before the respondent-Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), Andhra Bank, Jaipur seeking information under twenty-five points related to tender for the service of the generator in the bank, to which CPIO replied on 24-09-2015. The appellant being dissatisfied with the response, preferred the First Appeal but the First Appellate Authority did not pass any order. Aggrieved thereby, the appellant filed a Second Appeal dated 16-12-2015, before the State Information Commission (SIC), Jaipur which was transferred to this Commission on 12-01-2017 for consideration.

The appellant contended that the reply given by the respondent was unsatisfactory and therefore requested the Commission to direct him to provide complete pointwise information and to take the necessary action as per Section 20 of the RTI Act. The respondent submitted that he had taken the facility of the generator from a person, other than the appellant, by following due procedure and the appellant’s agreement was terminated as per the terms of the agreement, aggrieved by which, the appellant filed the subject RTI.

The Commission in its order noted that most of the information sought by the appellant was in the form of queries which did not qualify for ‘information’ as defined under Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act. The Commission found that the reply given by CPIO was ‘evasive’, hence it directed the respondent to provide the information sought by the appellant on points 2, 3, 9, 13, 18, 19, 20 23 and 24 of his RTI application within 10 days from the date of receipt of the order.[Rajendra Sharma v. CPIO, Andhra Bank, 2019 SCC OnLine CIC 299, Order dated 03-05-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): The Bench of Sudhir Bhargava, CIC, while dealing with an issue in respect of Electronic Voting Machine stated that EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) is information under RTI Act.

In the present case, the appellant had filed the application under Right To Information Act, 2005 before the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), Election Commission of India seeking an Electronic Voting Machine. Appellant filed the second appeal on the grounds that the respondent wrongly denied the information.

Contentions placed by the appellant:

Appellant stated that as per Section 2(f) and 2(i) of the RTI Act, the definition of ‘information’ and ‘record’ includes model or any sample which ultimately qualifies EVM as “information” and should be provided to him under Section 6(1) of the RTI Act. Appellant further requested the commission to direct CPIO, ECI to provide the desired information to him free of cost and impose a penalty against CPIO under Section 20 of RTI Act.

Conclusion [Decision taken by CIC]

CIC Bench concluded its order by stating the definition of information under Section 2(f) of RTI Act, i.e.

Section 2(f) – “Information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, order, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.”

Therefore, noting the above, the Commission stated that EVM is available in a material form and also as samples, as admitted by the respondent during the hearing, is information under the RTI Act. The contention that the software installed in the EVM is an intellectual property of a third party, disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the third party concerned, commission directed the CPIO, ECI to provide an appropriate reply, as per the provisions of the RTI Act, since it could not have been denied under Section 6(1) of the Act.

With the above position of facts and circumstances along with the conclusion pronounced, the appeal was disposed of. [Razak K. Haidar v. CPIO, Election Commission of India, Order dated 11-02-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Sudhir Bhargava, Chief Information Commissioner, directed the Registry of the Bench to issue a Show Cause Notice to the respondent to explain as to why action under Section 20(1) of the RTI Act should not be initiated against him.

The facts of the case are that the Commission directed DPS NALCO to provide a copy of the Record Retention Schedule as well as the order of the Competent Authority for the destruction of the attendance register for the year 1989-90, to the appellant within a period of four weeks from the date of the order, and grant one more opportunity to the appellant to inspect all the relevant records pertaining to the information sought in her RTI application on a mutually decided date and time as per the provisions of the RTI Act. The appellant again submitted an application alleging non-compliance of the directions of the Commission by the respondent. The respondents denied the same.

The Commission held that in the view of such evident contradiction in the submissions of the respondent, leading to non compliance of specific directions of the Commission and deliberate obstruction to the flow of information, a show cause notice is to be issued to the respondent for explaining as to why action under Section 20(1) of the RTI Act should not be initiated against him. [Puspalata Rout v. CPIO, 2019 SCC OnLine CIC 1, Order dated 07-02-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Rajiv Sharma and Harinder Singh Sidhu, JJ., allowed a petition made against the order by the Central Administrative Tribunal which allowed the demotion of the petitioner after the completion of his probation period.

The facts of the case are that the petitioner was promoted to the post of the Assistant Food & Supplies Officer. As stated in the Court, the probation period was of one year. Though one year probation period was over, the same was extended by another six months. Thereafter the petitioner was issued show cause notice on the basis that petitioner had maintained an association with a party that had staged various protests against the department. It was also stated in the show cause notice that he was seeking information from the Department under the Right to Information Act. This was viewed as a question mark on his integrity. Thus he was reverted to the post of Inspector, Food & Supplies Grade-I. CAT also dismissed his appeal.

The Court held that if the petitioner was found indulging in any misconduct, the regular inquiry could have been instituted against him. The petitioner had the absolute right to get the information under the Right to Information Act. Seeking information under the Right to Information Act cannot put a question mark on his integrity. The Tribunal overlooked the basic principles of service jurisprudence while dealing with the probation period. The petition was thus allowed. [Pardeep Kumar v. State (UT of Chandigarh), 2018 SCC OnLine P&H 2389, dated 17-12-2018].

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): The present matter was taken up by Sudhir Bhargava (Information Commissioner), under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Appellant had sought information primarily on two points under the Right to Information Act, 2005, which was:

  • Total number of currency notes of Rs 2000 printed daily from 09-11-2016 to 30-11-2016; and
  • Total Number of currency notes of Rs 500 printed daily from 09-11-2016 to 30-11-2016.

Further, a second appeal was filed on the grounds that the CPIO concerned denied information under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act.

According to the respondent and the submissions made on his behalf, he had submitted response to the RTI application and explained that the nature of currency printing and allied activities call for utmost exclusivity and confidentiality. He further stated that the information cannot be shared with the public at large, lest this result in proliferation of counterfeit currency and economic chaos. Disclosure of the details as regards quantity manufactured during specific period of printing need not be made known to the general public so as to safeguard the integrity of currency and to guard against counterfeiters, such information is exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act.

However, the Commission on perusal of the records and submissions made, noted that the information i.e. the total number of currency notes printed daily is not so sensitive so as to attract the exemption provisions under Section 8(1)(a), RTI Act as it relates to a past event and it cannot be presumed that its disclosure would lead to divulging the other non-disclosable information pertaining to the printing of currency notes.

Thus the CPIO was directed to furnish information as asked in point number 1 & 2 within 4 weeks from the receipt of order. [Harinder Dhingra v. CPIO, Bhartiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran (P) Ltd.,2018 SCC OnLine CIC 1607, Order dated 05-12-2018]