Orissa High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Orissa High Court: A Division Bench of S. Muralidhar and R.K. Pattnaik, JJ. issued a declaratory writ to the effect that the impugned notification dated 11-08-2016 issued by the Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Odisha under Section 24(4) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (‘RTI Act’), will not permit the Government to deny information pertaining to the Vigilance Department involving allegations of corruption and human rights violations, and other information that does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the Vigilance Department.

The instant petition was filed by way of PIL challenging the notification dated 11-08-2016 issued by Commissioner-cum Secretary, Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Odisha under Section 24(4) of the RTI Act, providing that nothing contained in the RTI Act “shall apply to the General Administration (Vigilance) Department” of the Government of Odisha “and its organization”.

The Court observed that Section 24(1) of the RTI Act is similarly worded as Section 24(4) of the RTI Act, with one difference being that the former relates to ‘intelligence and security organizations, being organizations established by the Central Government’ whereas Section 24(4) of the RTI Act pertains to those established by the State Government. However, in both instances, where information that is sought is in respect of allegations of violations of human rights, prior approval of the Information Commission concerned, Central or State, as the case may be, is required. Thus, the legislative intent is to provide information, and not to withhold it, particularly when it pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.

The Court while rejecting the contention of the opposite party that the information that stands protected from disclosure under Section 8 of the RTI Act will somehow straightway become available to an applicant in the absence of the impugned notification under Section 24(4) of the RTI Act, noted that what stands protected by Section 8 of the RTI Act would remain as such and additionally when such information pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations, the proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI Act would have to be considered as well. Thus, it is not as if such information would be straightway made available to a person seeking such information. In processing the request by an applicant seeking information regarding violation of human rights or involving corruption, regard will be had to Section 8 of the RTI Act. That is the true purport of the non obstante clause at the beginning of Section 8 of the RTI Act. In effect, therefore, there is no conflict between Section 8 on the one hand and the proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI Act on the other.

Placing reliance on Md. Abid Hussain v. State of Manipur, 2015 SCC OnLine Mani 129 wherein it was observed that “if there are any information which do not impinge upon the confidentiality of the sensitive activities of the organization and if such information is also relatable to the issues of corruption or violation of human rights, disclosure of such information cannot be withheld. Similarly, in respect of the police organizations in the State of Manipur if anybody seeks any information which does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the police department and if the said information also can be related to the issues of any allegation of corruption or violation of human rights, such information cannot be withheld.”

Further reliance was placed on CBSE v. Aditya Bandhopadhyay (2011) 8 SCC 497 wherein it was observed that “Section 8 should not be considered to be fetter on the right to information, but as an equally important provision protecting other public interest essential for the fulfillment and preservation of democratic ideals.”

The Court concluded that the impugned notification in so far as it seeks to exempt the entire Vigilance Department of the Government from the view of the RTI Act would run counter to the first proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI Act. In other words, the notification insofar as it prevents disclosure of information concerning the General Administration (Vigilance) Department even when it pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations would be contrary to the first proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI act and, by that yardstick, would be unsustainable in law. If under the RTI Act disclosure is the norm, and non-disclosure is the exception, then the impugned notification seeks to take away what is provided by the RTI Act and is therefore ultra vires the RTI Act.

The Court thus held “the General Administration (Vigilance) Department of the Government of Odisha cannot, notwithstanding the impugned notification dated 11th August 2016, refuse to divulge information pertaining to corruption and human rights violations, which information is expressly not protected from disclosure by virtue of the first proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI Act. Also, information that does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the Vigilance Department, cannot be withheld”

[Subash Mohapatra v. State of Odisha, 2022 SCC OnLine Ori 2014, decided on 20-06-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. S.P. Das, Advocate, for the petitioner;

Mr. S.N. Das and Mr. Srimanta Das, Advocates, for the opposite parties;

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

First Appellate Authority, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI): Santosh Kumar Shukla, First Appellate Authority, observed that the name and designation of Officers of IBBI as requested is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

The appellant had filed the present appeal challenging the communication of the respondent regarding his RTI Application filed under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act).

On perusal of the RTI Application, the appellant had requested certain information regarding the NCLT Order, Mumbai.

Further, the respondent had provided information on certain points and claimed exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act on points (b), (d) and (e). Aggrieved by the same, the appellant had filed the present appeal challenging the exemption taken by the respondent.

Analysis and Decision

The Bench stated that if the public authority holds any information in the form of data, statistics, abstracts, etc. an applicant can have access to the same under the RTI Act subject to exemptions under Section 8.

It was noted that the respondent did not give any reason or justification for invoking Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

Section 8(1)(j) exempts 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 a larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.

Further, the Appellate Authority expressed that it deems it fit to deal with the request on merits in the interests of the right to information and scope of information disclosures under the RTI Act.

Appellant’s first contention was that the disclosure of the name and designation of the person who uploaded the order/Form A was not exempted under Section 8(1)(j).

With regard to the above, Authority observed that, if the information sought for is personal and has no relationship with any public activity or interest or it will not sub-serve larger public interest, the respondent is not legally obliged to provide that information.

Bench held that the name and designation of Officers of IBBI as requested is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. Further, the appellate authority was not satisfied with how a larger public interest was involved.

In the opinion of the Appellate Authority, the respondent was not bound to respond to such inquisitions under the RTI Act.

With respect to the above, the decision which was referred was, Dr D.V. Rao v. Yashwant Singh, wherein it was observed that:

“the RTI Act does not cast on the public authority any obligation to answer queries in which a petitioner attempts to elicit answers to his questions with prefixes, such as, ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘whether’. The petitioner’s right extends only to seeking information as defined in section 2 (f) either by pinpointing the file, document, paper or record, etc., or by mentioning the type of information as may be available with the specified public authority.”

In view of the above, the appeal was disposed of. [Ishrat Ali v. CPIO, IBBI; decided on 17-5-2022]

 

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner), decides whether Commission can provide a ruling regarding the merits of a case or redressal of grievance.

Appellant had filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 before the Central Public Information Officer, Life Insurance Corporation of India seeking the following information:

  1. Why my S.R. No. is getting changed? Who is responsible for this change and thereby loss incurred.
  2. Does my other benefits affect due to change of S.R. Number?
  3. My loan was on floating interesting why it is changed to fixed @9.75% without any information. Is there any circular?
  4. My E.M.I’s are always deducted from my salary and sent by my branch. Why there is a gap? Please inform the gap month.
  5. Since the E.M.I’s for the month April 2012, May 2012, June 2012, July 2012 and Aug 2012 are received by HFL Jalandhar. Why the susbsidy is not released.
  6. Our cadre loan is Rs 2075000 but still there is ex cadre loan of Rs 3583 O/S in my case.

The CPIO denied the information as sought by the appellant under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005. Being dissatisfied with the same, the appellant had filed the first appeal and requested that the information should be provided to him, and FAO upheld the CPIOs response and disposed of the appeal. Further second appeal before the Commission was filed to direct the respondent to provide complete and correct information.

Decision

The Commission observed that the queries of the appellant were more in the nature of seeking explanation/opinion/advice from the CPIO and he had expected that the CPIO should first analyse the documents and then provide information to the appellant.

CPIO is not supposed to create information; or to interpret information; or or to furnish clarification to the appellant under the ambit of the RTI Act. As per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, the reasons/opinions/advices can only be provided to the applicants if it is available on record of the public authority. The CPIO cannot create information in the manner as sought by the appellant. The CPIO is only a communicator of information based on the records held in the office and hence, he cannot expected to do research work to deduce anything from the material therein and then supply it to him. 

With regard to the grievance raised by the appellant regarding the reason for a change in S.R. number, Coram observed that the framework of the RTI Act, 2005 restricts the jurisdiction of the Commission to provide a ruling on the issues pertaining to access/right to information and not to venture into the merits of a case or redressal of grievance.

Concluding the matter, the Commission held that the respondent had furnished point-wise reply/information to the appellant on his RTI application and further forwarded his grievance to the department concerned. Therefore, no intervention was required. [Deepak Kumar Joshi v. CPIO, LIC; CIC/LICOI/A/2020/118695; decided on 1-4-2022]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner) addressed a matter wherein it was alleged that the respondent intentionally provided an evasive reply by stating that the information sought was not clear, hence issue of prompt response of CPIO was raised.

Complainant filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 before the Central Public Information Officer, Reserve Bank of India seeking the information as under:

CPIO informed the applicant that the information sought was not specific/clear and it was not able to furnish information on the matter.

The complainant filed a complaint under Section 18 of the RTI Act before the Commission requesting to take appropriate legal action against the CPIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act.

Decision

The Commission observed that the preliminary information sought were wide/general and non-specific and largely based on the situational queries.

Further, the complainant contended that information sought had not been provided by the respondent which amounts to deemed refusal of information of the complainant.

Additionally, it was stated that, the CPIO is only a communicator of information based on the records held in the office and hence, he cannot expect to do research work to deduce anything from the material therein and then supply it to him.

Coram observed that while examining the complaint under Section 18 of the RTI Act, 2005, the CIC has no jurisdiction to direct disclosure of any information.

The above-said legal position had been authoritatively settled by the Supreme Court in Chief Commissioner v. State of Manipur, Civil Appeal Nos. 10787-10788 of 2011.

Hence, Commission opined that the respondent has already provided a suitable reply to the complainant and prima facie the adequacy of information cannot be adjudicated by the Commission while examining the complaint and there is no malafide intention of obstructing the information.

Therefore, no action is warranted under Section 20 of the RTI Act.

In view of the above, complaints were disposed of. [Shishir Gupta v. CPIO, RBI; 2022 SCC OnLine CIC 159, decided on 28-3-2022]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Expressing that, RTI Act is a tool that facilitates the employees and officers in airing their grievances systematically, the Division Bench of Manmohan and Sudhir Kumar Jain, JJ., remarked that,

“…both service and RTI laws ‘act like a safety valve in the society’.”

Respondent 2 was working as a Superintendent in Administration with Enforcement Directorate. She had filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 seeking the following information:

(1)copies of all the seniority list in respect of LDCs for the period of 1991 till date;

(2)copies of the proposal for promotion of LDCs placed before the DPC together with copies of the Minutes of the Meetings and copies of the promotion orders issued on the recommendations of the DPC from time to time.

Analysis, Law and Decision

The appellant is an intelligence and security organization specified in second schedule of the RTI Act and is exempt from the purview of the RTI Act except when the information pertains to allegation of corruption and human rights violation.

Instant matter involved interpretation of Section 24 of the RTI Act.

It was stated that the Division Bench of this Court in Esab India Ltd. v. Special Director of Enforcement, 2011 SCC OnLine Del 1212, upheld the Constitutional validity of Section 24 of the RTI Act.

Further, the Court expressed that the appellant being an intelligence and security organization was exempt from the purview of the RTI Act except when the information pertained to allegations of corruption and human rights violation.

The expression ‘human rights’ cannot be given a narrow or pedantic meaning. Human rights are both progressive and transformative.

Whether the information sought by the respondent falls within the expression human rights?

Bench opined that,

Human rights have been used for a variety of purposes, from resisting torture and arbitrary incarceration to determining the end of hunger and of medical neglect.

In the present matter, non-supply of the information/documents is a human rights violation as in the absence of the same respondent 2 would not be able to agitate her right to promotion.

High Court expressed that, if employees of an establishment cannot agitate their grievances before judicial forums, these organizations/establishments may become autocratic.

Information pertaining to proposals for promotion of third parties cannot be provided to the respondent in view of Section 11 of the RTI Act.

Hence the High Court held that the information pertaining to proposals for the promotion of third parties cannot be provided to the respondent in view of Section 8(1)(j) and 11 of the RTI Act.

Lastly, the Court directed the appellant to provide copies of all the seniority list in respect of LDCs for the period of 1991 till date as well as copies of the proposal for promotion of respondent (LDC) placed before the DPC together with copies of the Minutes of the Meetings and copy of the promotion/rejection order issued on the recommendations of DPC from time to time.

In view of the above present appeal was disposed of. [Union of India v. CIC, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 824, decided on 22-3-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

For the appellant:

Mr Amit Mahajan, CGSC

Mr Dhruv Pande, Advocate.

For the Respondents:

Mr Shiv Kumar, Advocate for R-2 with respondent 2 in person.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Rajasthan High Court: A Division Bench of Akil Kureshi, CJ and Rekha Borana, J. dismissed the petition and kept it open for the petitioners to file a fresh public interest petition.

A PIL was filed by the petitioners sustaining serious allegations with respect to mismanagement of respondent 2 Arth Credit Cooperative Society.

The Court observed that in this public interest petition as it stands today, there are no supporting documents or informative evidence, even prima facie sustaining serious allegations made by the petitioners with respect to mismanagement of the respondent 2 Arth Credit Cooperative Society.

The Court further observed that a citizen approaching the Court in a public interest jurisdiction holds a greater duty to make full research and present necessary facts before the Court to cause further investigation.

The Court thus held “we are not inclined to entertain this petition.”[Gajendra Purbia v. Union of India, D.B. Civil Writ Petition (PIL) No. 3069/2022, decided on 02-03-2022]


Appearances:

For Petitioner(s): Mr. Sumit Singhal


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Uttarakhand High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: Sudhanshu Dhulia J. dismissed the petition being devoid of merits.

The facts of the case are such that the petitioner, the wife, is a teacher in a Government Primary School in Udham Singh Nagar and was married to respondent 8, the husband but later their relation got strained and therefore she started living separately due to alleged cruelty, torture and demand of dowry at the hand of her husband and in-laws. The case of the petitioner before the Court was that her husband (respondent 8) was seeking personal information of the petitioner under Right to Information Act, 2005 (in short “RTI Act”), and these information are being given to him by the concerned authority. The information sought was as to how many teachers are working, the salary being given to the petitioner etc. Hence the instant petition.

Respondent 8 contended that this information does not appear to be private in nature in any manner nor are they exempted under the RTI Act.

Under the RTI Act, the ‘information’ has been defined under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, which reads as under:

‘information’ means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, 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.”

A bare perusal of the aforesaid definition shows that the ‘information’ has been widely defined. On a request these information have to be supplied to the persons seeking such information by a public authority.

The ‘public authority’ has also defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, which reads as under:

“‘public authority’ means any authority or body or institution of self-government

established or constituted:

(a) by or under the Constitution;

(b) by any other law made by Parliament;

(c) by any other law made by State Legislature;

(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any-

(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed;

(ii) non-Government Organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.”

The Court observed that it cannot be any anybody’s case that a Government authority being Government school does not come under the definition of ‘public authority’. The only exception as to the information given under the Act under Section 8 of the RTI Act, is an exemption from disclosure of information. It further observed that the nature of information sought by respondent 8 is not covered under any of the exemption given under Section 8 of the RTI Act.

The Court held “no interference can be made in the present writ petition. The writ petition is totally misconceived and is hereby dismissed.”

[Jasmeet Kaur v. State of Uttarakhand, 2016 SCC OnLine Utt 2276, decided on 07-09-2016]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearances:

For petitioner: Mr. Mani Kumar

For State: Mr. P.C. Bisht

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: N S Sanjay Gowda J dismissed the petition being devoid of merits.

The respondent 1’s son has ended his life by jumping out of the window and the Authorities stated that it was due to over drinking. Thus, Respondent 1 sought for information regarding the B report that was filed after investigation due to the stigma attached to his family by furnishing of the B report. By the impugned order, The State Information Commissioner directed the petitioners to hand over and furnish the B- report and the enclosures.

The court observed that there is no prohibition to give information sought for since the investigation was already completed. The court further observed that the Commissioner was right in observing that only in the event the matter was under investigation, there was a bar for grant of the information regarding the investigation.

The Court further observed that the directions given by the Commissioner regarding furnishing of B report and its enclosures as sought for by respondent 1 especially when the investigation was concluded was absolutely right.

The Court held “contention of the learned counsel for the petitioners that it was open for respondent No. 1 to secure B report and enclosures from the Magistrate cannot be a ground to deny the information sought for under RTI”[The Public Information Officer v. Maleshappa M Chikkeri, W P No. 18599/2021, decided on 12-10-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearances

For petitioners: Mr. Venkata Satya Narayan

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]