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, Second Appeal No. CIC/POSTS/A/2018/171081, 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; CIC/PMOIN/A/2019/657279, decided on 09-10-2020]

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 BriefsCOVID 19Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Bimal Julka, Chief Information Commissioner, noted that the RTI application seeking very pertinent information with regard to COVID-19 pandemic was shuttled between one public authority to another and held that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare shall collate all the information and furnish the same to complainant and on its’ website.

Complainant sought records by way of his RTI application on the following points:

  • Date when the Government of India first received information on the coronavirus/Wuhan virus/ virus affecting China.
  • Whether any communication was received by the Government of India about a possible pandemic like situation in India between the period of November 2019 to March, 2020?
  • Copy of the minutes of meeting that took place into the possibility of declaring coronavirus a health emergency or not between the period of March 5th to March 14th, 2020.
  • Whether the Government of India/any of its ministries or departments had received warnings/alerts/communication from the World Health Organisation on the possibility of coronavirus affecting India?
  • Whether any internal reports on a possibility of a pandemic like situation arising in India was communicated within the Ministry or its departments?
  • Any intelligence information on the coronavirus diseases originating from China possibly affecting India in future?
  • Whether the Government of India/this Ministry or its various departments sought China’s assistance in getting the sample of Virus?
  • Was China requested to share virus genetic sequence?
  • On which date did ministry of health first communicated the information of Virus possibly affecting India to PMO?
  • When was the issue of inadequate PPE discussed in the Ministry?
  • Whether additional funds were sought to fight against the virus. If so the date on which the first request and subsequent requests were made and to whom be furnished?
  • Whether the Ministry proposed a ban on incoming Chinese citizens to India?
  • Whether the ICMR received any reports/communications/internal warnings/memos/internal reports during the period of November 2019 to March 2020 about the possibility of a pandemic like situation in India due to the virus: To this ICMR responded that all the information pertaining to circulars, notifications, etc, is available on the ICMR website.
  • Whether the Government of India/this Ministry or its various departments was monitoring the situation in China and its possible effects on India?

To almost all the above queries, ICMR responded with a standard response — Not pertains to ICMR.

Complainant remained dissatisfied with the respondent’s response.

RTI Act

Commission observed that a voluntary disclosure of all information that ought to be displayed in the public domain should be the rule and members of public who having to seek information should be an exception.

Another significant observation was that, an open government, which is the cherished objective of the RTI Act, can be realised only if all public offices comply with proactive disclosure norms.

Accountability

Several decisions are being made by the Governments involving huge interventions in the healthcare impacting daily lives of billions of people, hence it is essential that the decisions are thoroughly documented in order for the Government to remain accountable.

Information pertaining to COVID-19

Complainant sought very pertinent information with regard to COVID-19 situation, which could not be made available by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Commission held that authentic, verified and cogent reply based on factual information needs to be furnished to the complainant as also disclose on the Public Authority website for the benefit of public at large.

Secretary, Health & Family Welfare was advised to have this matter examined at an appropriate level and the Nodal Authority so notified should furnish all the details sought by the Complainant in a clear, cogent and precise manner within a period of 30 days.

In view of the above complaints were disposed of. [Saurav Das v. CPIO, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 626, decided on 23-07-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Bimal Julka (CIC) observed that, important decisions are being made by the Governments involving huge intervention in the healthcare and daily lives of billions of people as they seek to secure social, economic and cultural wellbeing of its population and uphold the rule of law.

It is essential that the decisions themselves and the senior decision makers involved are thoroughly documented in order for the Governments to remain accountable both during and after the crisis for future generations to be able to learn from these actions.

Complainant sought information regarding district-wise number of hospitals and healthcare facilities called by any other name, designated as COVID-19 treatment centres;  criteria for designating them as COVID-19 treatment centers; hospitals and healthcare facilities whose status as COVID 19 treatment centers was withdrawn, etc which should be available with the M/o Health and Family Welfare (M/oH&FW), Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) or the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Reasoning for information sought:

Complainant submitted that the suo motu disclosure of information would immensely benefit the suspected COVID-19 patients or their relatives to be informed and take timely action to approach the appropriate healthcare facility for treatment.

ICMR

He further cited the example of mapping of designated COVID testing centers by the ICMR on Google Maps and stated that similarly information regarding COVID-19 Treatment Centers could also be displayed on Google Maps which would be beneficial to the entire citizenry.

Respondent (MoHFW, PH Section) re-iterated the response to the RTI application and stated that the information sought was not available with them and the application was transferred to the CPIOs concerned.

Commission’s Observation and Decision

Commission at the outset was appalled to learn that basic information pertaining to the District Wise Designated COVID treatment centres could not be provided to the information seeker by any of the Respondents.

As per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, the CPIO acts as the pivot for enforcing the implementation of the RTI Act, 2005 and it is their responsibility to facilitate flow of information instead of simply shifting the onus of disclosing the same to other Public Authority/ officials.

Commission further observed that a voluntary disclosure of all information that ought to be displayed in the public domain should be the rule and members of the public who having to seek information should be an exception.

An open government, which is the cherished objective of the RTI Act, can be realised only if all public offices comply with proactive disclosure norms.

Commission held that very pertinent information pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic situation was sought by the Complainant which could not be made available by any of the Respondent. The fact that the application shuttled from one Division of the Public Authority to another indicates that there is a very urgent requirement for notifying a Nodal Authority in the M/o H&FW/ DGHS to compile, collate and consolidate the information sought in the RTI application and suo motu upload the same on the website of the Public Authority.

Therefore, the Commission advises the Secretary, M/o H&FW to designate an officer of an appropriate seniority as a Nodal Officer to examine the matter and suo motu disclose the information sought in the RTI application on the website of the Public Authority within a period of 15 days.[Venkatesh Nayak v. CPIO & CMO (EMR), MoHFW, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 346 , decided on 05-06-2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances, Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh said that the Central Information Commission (CIC) would start hearing Right to Information (RTI) Act applications of applicants from the UTs of J&K and Ladakh from tomorrow (15.05.2020).

This was disclosed by Dr. Singh after meeting the Chief Information Commissioner Shri Bimal Julka, who called on the Union Minister here. The Minister said that applicants from J&K and Ladakh can file RTI applications from home and no one has to travel outside even for appeals to the CIC. This will usher in a new culture of “Justice from Home”, said Dr Jitendra Singh.

Applicants from both the UTs can file first appeal before the Officers designated by them and can avail the facility of hearing from home for 2nd appeal before the CIC. Moreover, the applicants can file RTI anytime through the online mechanism.

The Minister also informed that any citizen of India can now file RTI pertaining to matters related to J&K and Ladakh, which was reserved to only Citizens of erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, before the Reorganisation Act of 2019.

It is pertinent to mention here that consequent to the passing of J&K Reorganisation Act 2019, the J&K Right to Information Act 2009 and the Rules there under were repealed and Right to Information Act 2005 and the Rules there under were enforced from 31.10.2019. Dr. Singh stated that concerted efforts for smooth transition from the J&K RTI Act 2009 to the Central RTI Act  were taken by the offices of Ministry of Home Affairs, DoPT and Central Information Commission. The Minister informed that till 10th May, 2020, 111 second appeals/complaints ( fresh cases) from the UT of J&K have been registered in the CIC consequent to the Reorganisation Act, 2019.

Training for CPIOs and FAAs is being planned and registration/alignment of Public Authorities of Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh on RTI online portal of DoPT is also being taken up with DoPT.

At present, all information commissioners are hearing cases and CIC headquarters are functioning with 33% official staff. Senior Information Commissioners are hearing cases from the office over video conferencing.


Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions

[Press Release dt. 14-05-2020]

[Source: PIB]

Appointments & TransfersNews

President of India administered the oath of office to Shri Bimal Julka as Chief Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission at a ceremony held today (March 6, 2020) at 1015 hrs. at Rashtrapati Bhavan.


President’s Secretariat

[Source: PIB]

[Press Release dt. 06-03-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madhya Pradesh High Court: A Division Bench of S.K. Seth and Nandita Dubey, JJ. contemplated a writ appeal filed by the appellant-wife of estranged marriage, the controversy involved in the present writ appeal is whether the information sought is exempt under Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 or is covered by Section 4(1)(b)(x) which obliges the public authorities to display on public domain the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees.

Minimal facts relevant for the proper appreciation of the appeal were the matrimonial dispute between the appellant and respondent was pending before the respective Court, while the appellant was getting maintenance from her husband as per the order of the court. The appellant filed an application under Section 91 CrPC, i.e. summons to produce document or thing which in this particular case was the pay slip of respondent for determination of proper maintenance amount. Such application was rejected by the trial Court. Aggrieved by the rejection Order, the appellant filed an RTI to seek salary details of the respondent, subsequently the same was rejected by the Authorities citing that the respondent is an Officer in Government Department, aggrieved by which the appellant forwarded her application to Central Information Commission, and thus, BSNL was directed to furnish the details of monthly remuneration of the respondent.

The respondent and BSNL in the capacity of the employer, aggrieved by the order of CIC, filed an appeal challenging the impugned Order, where he contended that the said Order was passed without giving him an opportunity of being heard. Learned Single Judge allowed the petition only on the aforesaid ground and directed the CIC to decide the appeal afresh after affording an opportunity of hearing to the parties concerned. The CIC directed to provide the information in the public domain after it had given an opportunity to the respondent. The respondents again challenged the Order of CIC in M.P High Court, where the learned Single Judge, set aside the Order of CIC on the basis of Supreme Court judgment in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner, (2013) 1 SCC 212.

The Court, observed that question is whether the information sought is personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest or would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the respondent. It further observed that the present case was factually different from the one cited by the Learned Single Judge while disposing of the aforementioned appeal, therefore the law laid down in Girish Ramchandra was not applicable in the appellant’s case.

The Court held, that it is important to mention that the appellant and respondent share a sacrosanct relationship where the appellant-wife is entitled to know the remuneration of the husband. Hence, the appeal was allowed and the earlier orders of the Courts were set aside while the Order of CIC was upheld. [Sunita Jain v. Pawan Kumar Jain, 2018 SCC OnLine MP 373, decided on 15-05-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. AK Sikri and SA Nazeer, JJ has given extensive directions in a PIL seeking direction to the Central Government to fill up the vacancies for the appointment of Commissioners in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the State Government in respect of State Information Commissions (SICs), in a timely manner in accordance with the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Who can be appointed as the Chief Information Commissioner/Information Commissioner:

Though the Parliament has intended that persons of eminence in public life should be taken as Chief Information Commissioner as well Information Commissioners, the Bench noticed a strange phenomenon that all those persons who have been selected belong to only one category, namely, public service, i.e., they are the government employees. Hence, it said:

“It is difficult to fathom that persons belonging to one category only are always be found to be more competent and more suitable than persons belonging to other categories. In fact, even the Search Committee which short-lists the persons consist of bureaucrats only. For these reasons, official bias in favour of its own class is writ large in the selection process. It is by no means suggested that the persons who have ultimately been selected are not deserving for the post of Information Commissioners. It is, however, emphasised that there can be equally suitable persons from other walks of life as well who may be the aspirants for such posts.”

The Court, therefore, impressed upon the Search Committee, in future, to pick up suitable candidates from other categories as well. After all, the very purpose of providing wide range of suitability was to have members in CIC by giving representation to other classes as well in order to ensure wider representative character in the composition of CIC

Strength of Information Commissioners in SICs:

Issuing directions to various States, the Court said that the purpose of Right to Information cannot be allowed to be frustrated by having thoroughly inadequate strength of Information Commissioners in the SIC as the Act enables the Government to have SIC with one SCIC and up to 10 Information Commissioners. It was hence, said that it is the statutory and constitutional obligation of the State Government to have adequate number of Information Commissioners for quick and speedy disposal of appeals and complaints.

General Directions:

  • All States shall place all necessary information including issuance of the advertisement, receipt and applications, particulars of the applicants, composition of Selection Committee etc. on the website as is being done by the Central Government.
  • The terms and conditions for appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner/Election Commissioner as stated under Section 13(5) of RTI Act must be specifically stipulated in the advertisement and put on website as well.
  • Search Committee should make the criteria for shortlisting the candidates, public, so that it is ensured that shortlisting is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria.
  • Information Commissioners should be appointed from other streams apart from the Government employee/ex-government employee as well.
  • The process for filling up of a particular vacancy must be initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur so that there is not much time lag between the occurrence of vacancy and filling up of the said vacancy.

The Court concluded by saying that:

“This Act is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure freedom of speech. On proper implementation, it has the potential to bring about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy.”

[Anjali Bhardwaj v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 205, decided on 15.02.2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Rajendra Menon, CJ, and V. Kameswar Rao, J. dismissed an appeal preferred by the writ petitioner against the order of the Writ Court allowing the petition filed by the respondents against the order of Chief Information Commission.

The appellant had filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The CPIO concerned refused to furnish the same while giving the appellant an opportunity to carry out inspection of the record and copies thereof. The appellant filed an appeal before the Appellate Authority prescribed under the Act. The Appellate Authority dismissed the appeal. Thereafter, the matter reached to the CIC who decided the matter in favour of the appellant and directed furnishing of certified copies while also recommending disciplinary action against the Appellate Authority. Challenging the order of CIC, a writ petition was filed by the Union of India which was allowed by the Writ Court. Aggrieved by the same, the appellant filed the instant appeal.

The High Court perused Section 20 of the Act and observed that it was clear that sub-section (2) thereof makes only a CPIO liable for disciplinary action. Further, it was also observed that an Appellate Authority under Section 19(1) is classified as an officer senior in rank to the CPIO. meaning thereby that the CPIO is a different authority from the Appellate Authority. The legislative intent was only to take a disciplinary action against CPIO and not against the Appellate Authority as was evident from Section 20(2). Thus, it was held that no penal action could be taken against the Appellate Authority under RTI Act. As such the appeal was dismissed. [R.K. Jain v. Union of India,2018 SCC OnLine Del 10957, dated 29-08-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): CIC has observed that leave records of other employees cannot be declared unless the applicant shows the involvement of a larger public interest. In this case, the appellant filed RTI application seeking leave records of a certain duration of all the executives working under Director (HR) and Director (CM).

The Commission observed that such information cannot be provided to the third party in terms of Supreme Court’s judgments in Canara Bank Rep. by its Deputy Gen. Manager v. C.S. Shyam, (2018) 11 SCC 426, Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner, (2013) 1 SCC 212 and R.K. Jain v. Union of India, (2013) 14 SCC 794. The Apex Court had held in these cases that information relating to the personal details of individual employee such as the date of his/her joining, designation, details of promotion earned, date of his/her joining to the Branch where he/she is posted, the authorities who issued the transfer orders, etc. cannot be provided in view of exception laid down under Section 8(j) of the RTI Act unless the applicant discloses any larger public interest involved in seeking such information of the individual employee.

The Commission applied the same test in this appeal and concluded that no intervention was required by it as the appellant failed to show the involvement of larger public interest in seeking leave records of other employees. [Love Gogia v. Central Public Information Officer, BSNL, Appeal No. CIC/BSNLD/A/2018/613653, order dated 26-06-2018]

Hot Off The PressNews

Instances have occurred wherein an Appellant/Complainant dies before his case is considered by the Central Information Commission (CIC). Further action to be taken in such a situation has engaged the attention of the Commission.

The Commission carefully considered this matter and decided that, in case of death of the Appellant/Complainant, the case will be heard as usual as Second Appeal/Complaint and the decision shall be put up on the website of the Commission. Orders have accordingly been issued on June 18, 2018 and also put on the website of the Commission.

Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: The CIC recently reiterated that it does not have the power to review its own orders as the same has not been envisaged in the RTI Act, 2005 or Rules framed under it.

Respondent replied CIC against the show-cause notice issued to him, wherein it was stated that the original RTI application dated 30.12.2015 of the appellant was duly responded by the PIO vide letter dated 30.03.2016. Thereafter, the appellant had filed another application dated 20.04.2016 with additional 09 points, which respondent considered an “After Thought Information”. The letter was not considered a RTI application as the prescribed fee for seeking information under the RTI Act, 2005 had not been paid/enclosed with the letter.

Thereafter, the letter dated 20.05.2016 was marked as First Appeal, which was addressed to the Managing Director & Appellate Authority. Subsequently, respondent claimed to have given a point wise response to the applicant on points which were raised in his letter dated 20.04.2016. Furthermore, it was submitted that the applicant had filed a complaint as CIC/KY/C/2016/900144, Diary No. 133893 dated 10.05.2016 and the same was dismissed by the Commission while citing that no fruitful purpose would be served by proceeding in such cases.

As regards the dissatisfaction of the complainant-appellant with the aforementioned decision, the Commission observed that re-visiting the said orders would amount to reviewing the earlier decision of the Commission which was not envisaged within the provisions of RTI Act, 2005. In this context, the decision of the Delhi High Court in the matter of DDA v. CIC, 2010 SCC OnLine Del 2058 was found pertinent where it was held that once the statute does not provide for the power of review, the CIC cannot, without any authority of law, assume the power of review or even of a special leave to appeal. Hence, in that case, Regulation 23 was held to be ultra vires the provisions of the Act. The Court also referred to the Supreme Court’s judgment in Patel Narshi Thakershi v. Shri Pradyumansinghji Arjunsinghji, (1971) 3 SCC 844. Later, Regulation 23 of the Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations, 2007, was amended vide notification No. CIC/Legal/2007/006 dated 20.10.2008 to correct this defect. Accordingly, CIC denied intervention in this matter. [Revanna P v. Jerome Kujur, Jt.GM (HR) and CPIO, HMT (International) Ltd., Complaint No. CIC/DOHIN/C/2017/154878-BJ- Final, order dated 19.06.2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): In a landmark case CIC held that a candidate can seek answer sheets of other candidates and that this is not marred by Section 8(1)(e) and Section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act. However, it is subject to Sections 3 and 6.

The departmental examination which was conducted to decide the promotion on the job for the post of EO/AO comprised of four papers, out of which three were objective and one was descriptive in nature. Since the fourth paper was descriptive, no model answers were prepared. Around 3,000 candidates appeared in the exam out of which only 5 candidates were selected and this appellant was qualified but was not in the final list of four selected candidates as there were only four vacancies while the appellant stood at Number 5. Appellant wanted model answers for the Fourth Question paper also. The public authority has disclosed the questions and answers of all the candidates regarding three papers but refused to give four answer-sheets of four qualified candidates to the appellant. The appellant claimed that he wanted to check the answers given by four who topped above him and where he lacked in and if he was really ineligible to secure promotion.

The legality of demanding answer sheet in the examination is in principle upheld by the Supreme Court in CBSE v. Aditya Bandhopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497 provided that the request is made during a reasonable time in which the authorities are expected to retain the answer scripts. SC held that answer book also does not fall under any of the exemption provided under (a) to (j) of sub-section 1 of Section 8 of RTI Act. So, an examining body does not hold the evaluated answer books in a fiduciary relationship under Section 8(1)(e).

In Kewal Singh Gautam v. State of Chhattisgarh, AIR 2011 Chh 143, Chhattisgarh High Court held that conduct of examination by the departmental agency for promotion in Govt. department, are not private activities, but in public domain and the checking and evaluation of answer sheet by an examiner and the marks given by him upon assessment of performance has nothing to do with the privacy of either the examiner or those who are responsible for conducting the examination so Section 8 (1)(j) is not attracted.

In Centre of Earth Science Studies v. Dr. Mrs. Anson Sebastian 2010 SCC OnLine Ker 541, where one employee sought information pertaining to documents relating to domestic enquiry against another employee and also for getting entries in confidential report of six other employees of the appellant, repelling the claim of exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act of 2005, the Division Bench of High Court of Kerala held that provision of Section 8(1)(j) are not attracted.

CIC analysed that in CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhya, (2011) 8 SCC 497 the Supreme Court said no, but on certain practical issues. The CBSE pleaded that if it has to share certified copies of answer-sheets of other to each and every candidate seeking under RTI, it would lead to chaos and divert substantial resources. In UPSC v. Angesh Kumar,  (2018) 4 SCC 530,  the Court read the inherent limitation in Sections 3 and 6 as pertaining to revelation of information that is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information. The Supreme Court referred to the problems in showing evaluated answer sheets in the UPSC Civil Services Examination in Prashant Ramesh Chakkarwar v. UPSC, (2013) 12 SCC 489.

CIC observed that the most important point was that the rejection in CBSE and UPSC cases was not based on any exception under Section 8(1) including (e) & (j). CIC concluded that no such difficulty exists in the present case and the appellant was entitled to get copies of answer sheet of the four candidates who topped. [Shailendra Kumar Singh v. PIO, EPFO, CIC/EPFOG/A/2018/614958, decided on 08-06-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): The appellant had approached the Chief Public Information Officer (“CPIO”) at the University of Delhi, asking for details regarding B.A. results for the year of 1988, which was denied under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 (“the Act”), which reads:

8. Exemption from disclosure of information- (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen-

(a)-(i) …                                     *                                            *                                       *

(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:”

The CPIO informed the appellant that the results were private information of respective students and could only be accessed by individual students on request. The disclosure of the same shall serve no public interest hence the requested information could not be provided. The First Appellate Authority upheld the CPIO’s reply.

Before the  CIC, the appellant contended that the Supreme Court, in Mairembam Prithviraj v. Pukhrem Sharat Chandra Singh, (2017) 2 SCC 487, had held that citizens have the right to know the veracity of claims made by elected representatives about their educational qualifications. The CIC itself, in Subhash Chandra Tyagi v. CBSE,  2016 SCC OnLine CIC 11442 had held that where there is a doubt regarding the validity of a qualification, it is necessary to verify the same.

The respondent referred to a judgement by the CIC in Neeraj v. Delhi University, 2016 SCC OnLine CIC 19979 where the Delhi University was directed to furnish information about students; results for B.A. batch of 1978, but the same was stayed by the Delhi High Court in Writ Petition No. 600/2017. It was submitted that since this matter, being similar to the case at hand was pending adjudication, the CIC should refrain from intervening in the matter.

The CIC took note of the fact that its decision in a similar matter had been stayed by the High Court and found it not prudent to interfere at the moment. Hence the appeal as disposed of with liberty to approach the CIC again following the pronouncement of judgment by the Delhi High Court in WP No. 600/2017. [Neeraj Sharma v. CPIO, University of Delhi, Appeal No. CIC/UODEL/A/2017/124882-BJ, decided on 28.05.2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madhya Pradesh High Court: While allowing an appeal, the Division Bench of S.K. Seth J., and Nandita Dubey J., decided a writ in which the appellant- wife sought information in regard to the salary of respondent 1- husband in reference to obtaining maintenance amount.

The brief facts of the case state that Respondent 1-husband held a very high officer position in the Telecommunication Department and was also earning an amount of Rs. 2,25,000 per month, whereas the appellant, an advocate though not in practice, was attaining an amount of Rs. 7000 as maintenance from her husband.

For the stated amount of maintenance, the appellant had filed an application under Section 91 of CrPC to obtain a direction in which the respondent was asked to submit his payslip so that correct maintenance amount could be calculated accordingly, but the trial court had rejected her application. Further an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 was submitted in quest of the same details as mentioned above, which eventually was taken to Central Information Commission. CIC had then asked the CPIO, BSNL to provide the said details.

Challenging the order of CIC, the only claim that was raised upon from the side of the respondent was that he was not given an “opportunity of hearing” which is the violation of principles of natural justice, for which the learned Single Judge had given an opportunity to hear and directions were issued to CIC for fresh appeal. In the second round of writ petition, the order of CIC to provide the information asked was challenged both by Respondent 1 and BSNL.

However, in accordance to Section 8(1) (j) of the said Act, “the information which has no relation to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy”, is exempted from being disclosed, the Court allowed the appeal by stating the fact that appellant is the wife of Respondent 1 which gave her the right and entitlement to know the remuneration of her husband. [Sunita Jain v. Pawan Kumar Jain, 2018 SCC OnLine MP 373, dated 15-05-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): The CIC recently directed Public Information Officers to abstain from forwarding information received from their subordinates to the RTI applicant without perusing the same for errors, in order to uphold the duty enjoined on them by the RTI Act.

The appellant had filed an RTI application addressed to the respondent CPIO to be given information regarding the progress of the insurance claim made by him. He alleged in the district consumer forum that he received no reply from the respondent and the district forum held in the appellant’s favour.

However, the respondent argued in front of the CIC saying that although it was correct that the appellant had received no reply from him, the said RTI application was received and processed by the bank which received the application. The bank, though not authorised to respond to RTIs anyway went ahead and answered the queries raised by the appellant, hence the appellant’s contention that he received no reply was incorrect. He further informed the CIC that he had issued an unconditional apology to the appellant for the lapse on his part.

The appellant submitted that the authority from which the reply was received was not one which was authorized by the RTI Act to do so and hence the CPIO was responsible for not furnishing the information in the prescribed manner.

The CIC referred to J.P. Agrawal v. Union of India, 2011 SCC OnLine Del 3245, where the Delhi High Court held:

“The PIO is expected to apply his/her mind, duly analyse the material before him/her and then either disclose the information sought or give grounds for non-disclosure. A responsible officer cannot escape his responsibility by saying that he depends on the work of his subordinates. The PIO has to apply his own mind independently and take the appropriate decision and cannot blindly approve/forward what his subordinates have done.”

In the J.P. Agrawal case, the Delhi HC referred to its previous judgment in Vivek Mittal v B.P. Srivastava, 2009 SCC OnLine Del 2555 had observed as follows:

“[A] PIO cannot escape his obligations and duties by stating that persons appointed under him had failed to collect documents and information; that the Act as framed casts obligation upon the PIO to ensure that the provisions of the Act are fully complied. Even otherwise, the settled position in law is that an officer entrusted with the duty is not to act mechanically.”

The CIC hence was of the view that the respondent CPIO’s argument that the appellant did, in fact, receive the desired information, though through an unauthorised source is not tenable as it is the duty of the CPIO to provide such information himself and not blindly delegate this work to his subordinates. The CPIO was directed to furnish a point-by-point reply to the appellant’s application and exercise care in the future and the appeal was accordingly disposed of. [Jaydrath Prasad v. Branch Manager and CPIO, Oriental Insurance Company Ltd., Chaibasa,2018 SCC OnLine CIC 356, decided on 18-05-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: The Central Information Commissioner, M.S. Acharyulu on Friday heard an application by one Navdeep Gupta who requested the MHA for details pertaining to the cremation and post-mortem of the former PM. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) forwarded the request to the National Archives which denied having any information about the same and expressed the probability that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) or the Indian embassy in Russia or the Russian embassy in India might have details of the same.

The CIC then proceeded to describe multiple sources, including previously denied RTIs asking for similar details, citing national security; and multiple articles published in magazines, websites etc, which document the events surrounding the PM’s mysterious death, the inability of the Janta government constituted inquiry commission to find any leads, and the statements made by Shastri’s relatives about requests for his post-mortem being rejected and the equally mysterious death of two important witnesses before they could depose before the inquiry commission. No records of the Commission’s proceedings are to be found as well, not even in the Parliament’s library.

Hence the CIC established the right of the public to know about the circumstances of their leader’s death, more so because of the uncertainty and attitude of secrecy surrounding it. The Commission hence directed the Prime Minister’s Office, the MHA, the MEA, the National Archives, and Parliament Secretariat to make fresh efforts to recover whatever parts of the inquiry possible and release them to the common public. If the said public authorities feel that any part of the documents so found are hit by Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, which places restrictions on the right to information in the following words: “8(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,— (a) information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.”; they shall inform the Commission about the same which shall then decide on whether the said information can be disclosed. The above authorities were directed to submit their replies by June 18. [Navdeep Gupta v. PIO, National Archives of India,2018 SCC OnLine CIC 311, order dated 11-05-2018]