Central Information Commission (CIC): Suresh Chandra, (Commissioner) held that “Section 10 RTI Act reveals that the power of severing the information disclosable from the exempted one vest in the CPIO if this power is read as not vesting in him, it may render the very provision otiose.”
The facts of the instant case are that the appellant had filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 before the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), Reserve Bank of India seeking information regarding the following:
(a) Whether the RBI has made AADHAR seeding mandatory for opening and operating bank account. If yes, provide file with file noting where this decision was taken.
(b) Whether RBI was aware of decision on Supreme Court order dated 13th March, indefinitely extending the requirement of linking AADHAR till the Hon’ble Supreme Court pronounces the final judgment on the validity of AADHAR.
(c) Provide information on file with file noting where RBI has decided to be in contempt of the order of Supreme Court mentioned in point (b) above by issuing direction for linking of AADHAR.
Appellant requested the Commission to direct the CPIO to provide the information immediately and take the necessary action as per Section 20(1) of the RTI Act.
Appellant inter alia submitted that he had received the reply given by the CPIO however, the reply given on point no. (a) of the RTI application was incomplete. He stated that on point no. (a) he sought information as to whether RBI has made AADHAR seeding mandatory for opening and operating a bank account, if yes, provide a file with file noting where this decision was taken.
In the above regard, the respondent had provided a copy of the file noting as sought, however, they severed the names of the official(s) who made such proposal under Section 8 (1) (i) of the RTI Act. He contended that exemption claimed by the respondent was arbitrary and against the transparency law. He referred to clause (c) of sub-section (2) of Section 10 of the RTI Act which provides that when the access was granted to a part of the record under sub-section (1) of Section 10 of the RTI Act, the CPIO should have furnished the appellant the name and decision of the person giving the decisions. Hence, he requested the Commission to direct the respondent to provide the name of the person who had made such a proposal.
Analysis and Decision
Bench noted that the appellant’s main contention was with regard to the disclosure of the names of officials/Managers who initiated the note to amend KYC rules.
Though, initially, this information was denied by the respondent under Section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act, subsequently, in compliance of the order of the FAA, they provided copy of note sheet and blackened out the names of the officials on the ground of danger to the life, physical safety and personal threat being exempted under Section 8 (1) (g) of the RTI Act.
Commission further expressed that there have been several cases of the Supreme Court and High Courts wherein it has been laid down that the wisdom of public authority to claim exemption provided under the RTI Act may not be substituted unless found unreasonable or against the public interest.
Central Information Commission’s decision in Neeraj Sharma v. Reserve Bank of India, [CIC/RBIND/A/2017/167309], decided on 15-05-2019,
“The authorities have claimed exemption by virtue of the provisions under section 8(1) (a) and (d) of the RTI Act. The presumption that the legislature understands the needs of its people and that even its discrimination and classifications are based on adequate grounds has been acknowledged by the Supreme Court itself (in special reference No 1 of 2012,[(2012), 10 SCC 1]. The logic of balance exercise of judicial power has an assurance of institutional stability and re-organization of boundary of power is implicit in the Constitutional arrangement. It is contended that the failings of democracy and inadequacies of the democratic process cannot be invoked to negate the core of the democratic principle, namely that ultimate sovereignty vests in the people. Thus, arrangements of governance embodied in the Constitution resulting from the exercise of their free will cannot be used to deprive the ultimate masters of the right of final decision over their destiny. It is argued that “juridification of politics and politization of the judiciary” would be a loss for both the legislature and judiciary and that judiciary cannot act as a “censor of all governmental action”. There have been plethora of judicial orders highlighting the issue of restraint by judicial bodies in substituting their wisdom over those who have been assigned the function of implementation of Laws. The Commission after adverting to the facts and circumstances of the case, hearing both the parties and perusal of records, feels that due reply has been given by the respondent. Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.”
As regards the person who had written/initiated the note, is concerned, he was carrying out the orders of the Government of India or following the rules, and was not the approving authority. Even if he/they was/were approving the same, their names could be redacted/obliterated by the CPIO as per the provisions contained under of Section 10 (1) of the RTI Act.
Further, the Commission added that whenever the CPIO takes the decision to allow disclosure of information or withholding the part, he is supposed to mention his/her name and designation and in the instant case, if not disclosed, the same ay be disclosed immediately.
Section 10 RTI Act reveals that the power of severing the information disclosable from the exempted one vest in the CPIO, if this power is read as not vesting in him, it may render the very provision otiose.
In light of the above, in the instant case, the name and designation of the official referred to in clause (c) of sub-section (2) of Section 10 of the RTI Act, may be construed, unless rebutted, as the CPIO that communicates the decision to the appellant under the provisions of the RTI Act.
Commission observes that if it is presumed that the appellant was referring to the persons who initiated or approved that particular note as referred above, the same could be severed and thus denied and in the absence of larger public interest, the Commission does not feel it expedient or reasonable to substitute the wisdom of the CPIO.
While parting with the decisions, Commission stated that moreover, the appellant having received the note, having received the rules under which Aadhar was made mandatory, was not without remedy and it could not be said that there was no transparency. If name and designation of the CPIO who had taken the decision of severing as envisaged under Section 10, were not communicated, the same may be communicated to the appellant within 3 weeks from the date of receipt of this order.[Girish Mittal v. CPIO, RBI; Second Appeal No. CIC/RBIND/A/2018/631240; decided on 07-01-2020]