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 BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Divya Prakash Sinha (Information Commissioner) considered whether Sri Vedapureeswarar Sri Varadarajaperumal Devsthanama will be a public authority under Section 2(h) of Right to Information Act.

M. Vaikunth, Counsel for the respondent stated that Sri Vedapureeswarar Sri Varadarajaperumal Devsthanam, Pondicherry is not a Public Authority under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act in the light of a Kerala High Court judgment, hence they are not supposed to provide information.

Commission on 07-11-2019 had observed that PIO had already provided a response to the appellant with regard to renovation works, donation, details of costs for various preparation made for Kumbabishekam etc. at Sri Vedapureeswarar Sri Varadarajaperumal Devsthanam.

At the stage of the second appeal, it was averred that Sri Vedapureeswarar Sri Varadarajaperumal Devsthanam is not a Public Authority, hence, outside the purview of the RTI Act.

In view of the above-stated, Commission in its interim decision had directed the respondent to send a written submission highlighting the factum as to how the averred Devasthanam is exempt under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act alongwith relevant legal citation/proposition in support of their arguments.

FINAL DECISION

On perusal of the contentions of both the parties, Commission observed that appellant largely relied on conjecture suggesting the evasiveness towards transparency, alleged vested interest or rather deliberate conduct of the Executive Officer in withholding the information and has even questioned the merits of the appointment of the present Executive Officer.

Adding to the above, the Commission stated that no substantial submission was put forward by the appellant to prove that the respondent’s office is covered under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

Commission held that in the absence of any substantial argument of the appellant to prove that the respondent temple is a public authority as per Section 2(h) of RTI Act, the ratio laid down in Kerala High Court’s decision in A.C. Bhanunni v. Commr.,Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments dated 11-03-2011, as well as Hyderabad High Court’s decision of G. Rajenderanath Goud v. Government of A.P. on 14-11-2018, restrict the amenability of Respondent temple to the provisions of RTI Act.

Hence, Sri Vedapureeswarer Sri Varadaraja Perumal Devasthanam cannot be deemed as a public authority under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. [S Suresh v. CPIO, CIC/UTPON/A/2018/620714, decided on 31-08-2020]

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 BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: T.V. Anilkumar, J. dismissed the writ petition with all interlocutory applications declared closed.

In the present case, the petitioner filed a writ petition requesting the Court to issue a Writ of Mandamus against the respondent authority to ban the respondent broadcasting from telecasting the TV serial “Koodathai: The Game of Death”. The serial fictionalised the incidents relating to the commission of murder of six people at ‘Koodathai’ in Kozhikode, in which the petitioner is a key eye-witness.

Further, the case had yet not come to a conclusion. Therefore, the petitioner mainly contended that in order to prevent any prejudice by the other witnesses and fairness of the trial, the ban is a must.

The Court while dismissing the Writ Petition held that:

  1. The petitioner had no locus standi to file the petition;
  2. He himself on numerous occasions has appeared on news channels narrating the incident.
  3. The Writ of Mandamus can only be issued against a public authority if the same is required under any law, government order, or has been established by way of a precedent, which in the present case could not be cogently shown.

[Mohemmed Bava v. State of Kerala, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 3136, decided on 07-08-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: Alok Aradhe, J. while disposing of this petition granted the petitioner the liberty to assail the order by which a fine was imposed for not supplying information.

In the instant case, the petitioner sought a writ of certiorari for the quashing of the order passed by the Karnataka Information Commission by which the petitioner was directed to provide information to respondent 1 that whether Karnataka Badminton Association is a “Public Authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h) of Right to Information Act, 2000.

Prashanthi A.L., Counsel for the petitioner submitted that the information sought by the petitioner will be supplied to the petitioner within fifteen days.

The Court observed that it is not necessary to examine the validity of the order passed by the Karnataka Information Commission and directed the petitioner to provide information within fifteen days from the date of the order. [Karnataka Badminton Association v. S. Raghu, 2019 SCC OnLine Kar 1443, decided on 23-08-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC):  The Commission recently dealt with an appeal seeking information on the provisions/guidelines under which BCCI represents INDIA also whether the players selected by BCCI, play for India or BCCI?

The above appeal constituted the facts that the appellant had sought information primarily on whether the players selected by BCCI play for India or BCCI? And if so, how BCCI being a ‘private association’ represents India in the National and International cricket tournaments? The appellant was not satisfied with the response filed by the CPIO, which led him to approach the Commission.

Further, on dealing with the appeal filed, the Commission considered the issue on the ‘status of the Cricket team’ to be addressed on priority. The Apex Court and High Courts have expressed several times that the BCCI is directly related to the public activity which makes it accountable to the general public and answerable under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Therefore, on keeping the facts of the appeal in due consideration and in public interest, Commission considered its responsibility towards putting an end towards the prolonging dilemma on the non-transparency and unaccountability of the whole process.

On the same reasoning and grounds stated, Commission directed CPIO/authorised representative of BCCI to state an explanation on not declaring BCCI as ‘public authority’ even after several judicial pronouncements along with the recommendation in Law Commission’s 275th report. [Geeta Rani v. PIO, M/o Youth Affairs & Sports,2018 SCC OnLine CIC 1104, order dated 26-06-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: The Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat and Sunil Gaur, JJ., gave different opinions as to whether Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) is a ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h)(d) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Initially, information was sought by the respondent regarding information related to amount, name and particular of each recipient, beneficiary and donor during the information period. The CPIO, Prime Minister’s Office, gave partial information and withheld the rest on the grounds that PMNRF was not a ‘public authority’ within the meaning of Section 2(h) (d) of the Act. The Chief Information Commissioner, in appeal by the respondent, decided that PMNRF was a ‘public authority’ within the Act, and hence the Fund was directed to provide information as sought by the respondent.

The appellant Fund filed the appeal before the learned Single Judge which was dismissed. Hence, the letters patent application. The High Court had to decide on the issue as framed. The Bench gave a split decision on the question of the Fund being a ‘public authority’ or not.

S. Ravindra Bhat, J. was of the view that the Fund was a ‘public authority’ within the Act. According to Bhat, J. the directions given by the Prime Minister and other State functionaries as ‘Managers’ of the fund cannot be deemed to be actions in personal capacity. Those are deemed to be actions of the Government which the PM represents. Thus, PMNRF must be deemed to be a ‘public authority’ under the Act. Further, Section 8(1)(e) of the Act that provides exemption from furnishing of information aims at striking a balance between right to information and right to privacy. In the present case, the Fund does not offer any service to the donors or the beneficiaries, therefore the relationship between the donors/beneficiaries and the Fund does not take colour of a ‘fiduciary relationship’. Holding PMNRF to be ‘public authority’ under the Act, Bhat, J. upheld the impugned judgment.

On the other hand, Sunil Gaur, J. took a different view. According to him, the Fund does not owe its existence to the Government. It was a creation of the then PM in his ex-officio capacity. He relied on Thalappalam Service Co-operative Bank Ltd. v. State of Kerala,  (2013) 16 SCC 82, to hold that mere supervision or regulation of a Trust would not make it a ‘public authority’ within the meaning of Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act. According to the learned Judge, PMNRF was neither constituted by Parliament nor is it managed by the government functionaries in their official capacity. Gaur, J. held that PMNRF is not a ‘public authority’ under the RTI Act, and therefore the issue regarding the information sought being in the public domain did not survive for consideration. He accordingly ordered for the impugned order to be set aside.

By reason of divergence in opinion, the Bench directed the matter to be placed before the Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal to refer the following question to a third Judge:

“Whether the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is a “public authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h)(d) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and accordingly, whether information pertaining to various transactions made by the Fund can be obtained by preferring an application under the said Act?”

[Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund v. Aseem Takyar,  2018 SCC OnLine Del 9191, dated 23-05-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: The Court set aside an earlier order of the Central Information Commission declaring ministers in the Union government and all State Governments as public authorities under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Information Commissioner Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu had also recommended in his decision that the ministers should be given an official website for suo motu disclosure of information under the Right to Information Act and also said that ‘oath of secrecy’ should be replaced with ‘oath of transparency’. The order passed on 12th March, 2016 had also asked the Cabinet Secretary, Chief Secretary of all States and Union Territories (with Legislative Assembly) and the Principal Secretary to the Minister of Law & Justice to file a compliance report within three months. Accordingly, the case was brought before the Hon’ble High Court.

Setting aside the order, the Single Judge Bench of  Vibhu Bakhru,J. held that, “…there was no occasion for the CIC to enter upon the question as to whether a Minister is a ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the Act.” It also said that since the CIC has no jurisdiction whatsoever to decide upon this matter, its order is set aside. [Union of India  v. Central Information Commission, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 12144, order dated 23.11.2017]

 

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: The Commission was hearing an appeal from an RTI applicant who sought information from Delhi Soccer Association (DSA) regarding the status of various complaints received by its office bearers. He also sought details of the members of Sexual Harassment Committee, copy of notices and minutes of meetings of DSA and so on through total eleven points in view of Sexual harassment allegations against the Vice-President of DSA.

Against the appeal, the respondent authority contended that it was not a public authority under S. 2(h) and (f) of the RTI Act. The respondents contended that it was not the appropriate authority to seek information and at the same time, also contended that it had replied to some RTI queries of the appellant. To this, Commissioner Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu said that its arguments were self contradictory and also bashed the respondents for its conduct stating that such a conduct was highly unbecoming of a sports body concerned with public activity like football. He said they want all the authority relating to sport in the territory, but do not want to disclose any information which ideally, they should have voluntarily disclosed.

Commission noted that DSA is the only State level sports body for football in Delhi and therefore, it intrinsic part of public authority with all the powers, finances and support from the federation to conduct, promote and select teams in the Football sport. Commission further observed that DSA should understand that it is answerable to each and every sports person and sports lover in this country and has an obligation to the nation to bring out highly meritorious football players from the National Capital Region of Delhi, without quarreling to deny any information.

The Commission without any hesitation declared the respondents to be a public authority under the RTI Act as it is under the control of Government of India, AIFF and with grant of monopoly, that is totally established over the sport of Football within territory of NCR of Delhi, the Delhi Soccer Association is a body controlled and substantially financed by the Government of India. Finally, the Commission ordered the DSA to appoint a PIO as per Section 19(8)(a)(ii) of the Act and report back the compliance, within 30 days, update their official website with all the necessary information, intimate what action was taken on the sexual harassment complaints against DSA’s VP without disclosing the name of the complainants and also intimate the appellant if the allegations are correct or not. [D.K. Bose v. PIO, Delhi Soccer Association, 2017 SCC OnLine CIC 1792, decided on 21.11.2017]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: The appellant had approached the CIC praying to recognize the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money of the Department of Revenue (Ministry of Finance) as a ‘public authority’ within terms of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005 along with a direction to the authority to appoint a CPIO.

The appellant submitted that clause (h) of Section 2 is clear enough to state that any body or authority constituted by a notification issued by the appropriate government would be a “Public Authority” for the purpose of implementing the RTI Act while placing before the Commission the fact that the SIT was constituted by a notification of the Government of India vide number F. No. 11/2/2009- Ad. E.D. dated 29.05.2014. It being a multi-member body comprising of a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman and 10 other members, the SIT clearly met both the criteria under Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act, 2005 namely that it is a “body” for the purpose of the Section and that it had been constituted by the Central Government vide a notification, the appellant contended.

On hearing the contentions, the Commissioner Mr. Bimal Julka observed that it was very clear that the definition of “Public Authority” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005 does not prescribe “performance of Public Duty” as one of the criteria for determining if an Authority is “Public Authority” or not, yet performance of such duty by the authority, cannot be undermined to not be considered as an important Public Duty by the SIT which qualifies as a Public Authority as per the tests laid down in the first part to Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act.

The Commission finally held that Special Investigation Team on black money is a ‘public authority’ as per the Right to Information Act observing that when a public authority is largely funded by the government and performs the duty of bringing back unaccounted money kept unlawfully in bank accounts abroad, it is undoubtedly performing a public duty and therefore, every citizen of the country has the right to know about its functioning within the Act’s framework and as per its purpose. Accordingly, the authority concerned was directed to appoint a CPIO for SIT. [Venkatesh Nayak v. CPIO & DCIT (OSD),  (Inv. 1), Ministry of Finance, 2017 SCC OnLine CIC 1508, decided on 10.10.2017]