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; Second Appeal No. CIC/CCITB/A/2019/121513; 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 in the disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts may be in contravention of the 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; Second Appeal No. CIC/SBIND/A/2018/167835; decided on 21-12-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner) decided whether disclosure of income tax returns of the husband to wife under RTI Act is permissible or not.

Appellant had filed an application before the CPIO, Income Tax, Jodhpur seeking information with regard to the income tax returns filed by Mohammed Rafique for the period of 2017 to 2018.

Being dissatisfied from non-provision of the requested information, the appellant approached the Commission by filing a second appeal under Section 19(3) of the Right to Information Act.

Decision

Commission on perusal of the records observed that the information sought by the appellant regarding the copies of income tax return of her husband, etc. is personal information of the third party which cannot be disclosed under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

Further, the Commission referred to the judgment of the Supreme Court in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission, SLP (C) No. 27734 of 2012, decided on 03-10-2012wherein it was held that:

14. “The details disclosed by a person in his income tax returns are “personal information” which stand exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless involves a larger public interest and the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.”

However, the Division Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Sunita Jain v. Pawan Kumar Jain, 2018 SCC OnLine MP 373 and Sunita Jain v. BSNL, WA No. 170 of 2015, decided on 15-05-2018, had in a matter where the information seeker had sought the salary details of her husband from the employer held as under:

“While dealing with the Section 8(1)(j) of the Act, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the appellant and the respondent No. 1 are husband and wife and as a wife she is entitled to know what remuneration the respondent No. 1 is getting. Present case is distinguishable from the case of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande (supra) and therefore the law laid down by their Lordships in the case of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande (supra) are not applicable in the present case. In view of the foregoing discussion, we allow the appeal and set aside the order passed by the Writ Court in W.P. No.341/2008. Similarly, the W.A. No.170/2015 is also allowed and the impugned order passed in W.P. No.1647/2008 is set aside.”

Bombay High Court’s decision in Rajesh Ramachandra Kidile v. Maharashtra SIC, WP No. 1766 of 2016, dated on 22-10-2018.

In view of the above-stated analysis and the judgments of the Higher Courts, the Commission directed the respondent to inform the appellant about the generic details of the net taxable income/gross income of her husband held and available with Public Authority for the period of 2017-18, within a period of 15 working days from the date of receipt of this order.

In view of the above observations, the appeal was disposed of. [Rahmat Bano v. CPIO, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 1119, decided on 06-11-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner) addressed the instant matter and highlighted the essence of provisions of Right To Information Act, 2005 in regard to third-party information.

Appellant filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 before the Central Public Information officer, the Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, seeking information regarding last five years Audit Report (2012-2017) of Betsy Elizabeth Trust.

On not receiving the requisite information, appellant filed the first appeal, later the second appeal under Section 19(3) of the RTI Act before the Commission was filed on the ground of not receiving the information.

Decision

Commission observed that the appellant sought information related to Audit report (2012-2017) of Betsy Elizabeth Trust from the respondent public authority.

Further, the Commission noted that the respondent sought consent under Section 11 of the RTI Act from the third party and the said assesses denied disclosure of their information to the appellant.

Adding to the above, Commission opined that the information sought by the appellant in his RTI application is personal information of the third party, which is exempted from disclosure under Sections 8(1)(j) and 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Issue regarding “Personal Information”

Bench noted that the issue regarding the “personal information” held by an individual in its personal capacity and the personal information held by the entities/corporations/trusts in their private capacity. In regard to the said point, Delhi High Court’s decision in Naresh Trehan v. Rakesh Kumar Gupta, (2015) 216 DLT was referred.

Commission also examined the nature of “fiduciary relationship” involved in the instant matter whereby the information of profitability of Prime Meiden Limited company was sought which is exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act, 2005.

While concluding the instant matter, the Commission observed that no larger public interest was disclosed by the appellant, hence CPIO’s response was agreed by the bench.

Lastly, the Commission observed that there was a delay in seeking consent from the third party and even more the respondent waited for two long years for the reply of the third party. The respondent should have adhered to the timelines of the RTI Act.

In view of the above observations, the appeal was disposed of. [J. Vinoth Priyakumar v. CPIO, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 1120, decided on 06-11-2020]

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): Amita Pandove (Information Commissioner), came down heavily on CPIO, All India Radio for abdicating his duties.

Appellant filed an RTI application seeking information on the following points:

  1. “Have the security personnel, i.e., armed and /or unarmed security guards and security supervisors ever been deployed in All India Radio Directorate premises through any private security agency sponsored by Director General of Resettlement (DGR).
  2. If so, was the extra amount such as Relieving Charges etc. paid to the security agency for the arrangement of substitute of the Guards availing weekly off or other holidays as admissible to him/them in accordance with DGR guidelines.
  3. In the event of payment of extra amount such as Relieving Charges etc., how were the substitutes of the Guards or by extra hours of duty by any other guards within the contracted strength of Guards.
  4. In the event of the arrangement of substitute of any Guard proceeding on admissible weekly off/holiday from within their contracted strength of Guard, how was the payment against extra hours of duty performed by such guards regulated by payment of overtime or from payment of Relieving Charges etc.”

Instant RTI application was transferred by the RTI Cell to S.K. Tiwary, DDA (Archives) DG: AIR. CPIO had informed the appellant that AIR: Installations/transmitters were covered under the Indian Official Secrets Act, 1923 and therefore were prohibited places. Further CPIO stated that the information sought at point 1 to 4 were in the form of query which could not be replied by the CPIO as per the relevant provisions of the RTI Act.

Present second appeal was filed in light of unsatisfactory reply being furnished by the respondent.

Bench observed that the denial of the information by the respondent was only based on the argument that the disclosure of information may jeopardize the safety and security of AIR: installations and accordingly he invoked Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act.

Section 22 of the RTI Act was referred, which stated as follows:

“22. Act to have overriding effect – The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act.”

Bench stated that the implication of the above Section has to be read into the present matter, wherein, even if the protocol of any other nature subsisted, it was the statutory duty of the CPIO to respond on the RTI application by either providing the information or denying it under appropriate exemption clause of the RTI Act.

Since no reasonable justification was given by the CPIO, Commission attributes the mala fide intention of the CPIO per se in the deemed refusal.

Commission warned the CPIO to remain careful in future while dealing with the matter under the RTI Act.

CPIO is not at liberty to rely on other law/rules/orders/circulars for the time being in force, in matters of RTI Act. It is a statutory duty cast upon him to affect relevant provisions according to the circumstances and he cannot abdicate his powers enlarged unto him under RTI Act, as has been done in the instant case.

Supreme Court’s observation in the matter of CPIO, Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal,2009 SCC OnLine Del 2714, held that:

“There can be no doubt that the Act is premised on disclosure being the norm, and refusal, the exception.”

Hence, in view of the above CPIO was directed to provide relevant information to the appellant as sought in the RTI application. [Rajesh Babu v. CPIO, Asstt. DG (Security) Prasar Bharati, (India’s Public Service Broadcaster), Directorate General, All India Radio; Second Appeal No. CIC/DGAAR/A/2018/635823; decided on 07-10-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: Suraj Govindaraj J., while allowing the present petition made significant remarks related to the application of RTI Act, 2005 and Right to seek information as a facet to Fundamental Right to freedom.

Brief Facts

This writ petition is filed under Articles 226 and 227 of Constitution of India praying to quash the Order dated 18-06-2020 passed by the respondent 2, Karnataka Information Commission and consequently dismiss the said case filed by the respondent 1.

 Issue

  • Whether a candidate who has appeared for the examination conducted by Public Service Commission can as a matter of right under the Right to Information Act, seek for copies of his evaluated answer scripts depicting the marks awarded?
  • Whether any condition/s precedent are to be satisfied, by an applicant, in order to seek for furnishing of evaluated and marked answer scripts?
  • Whether the exceptions carved out in the decision of the Supreme Court in Angesh Kumar’s Case is applicable in the present Case?
  • Whether the Information Commission acting under Section 19(8)(a)(ii) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 can remove/dismiss the Public Information Officer already appointed by the Public Service Commissions and appoint another Public Information Officer in place of such removed person?
  • Are there any qualification prescribed under the Right to Information Act for a person to be appointed as a Public Information Officer?

 Observations

With respect to each of the aforementioned issued, the Court categorically answered as follows;

  • Having regard to the decision of the Supreme Court in CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497, it is seen that where an application had been made to the Central Board of Secondary Education, the Supreme Court has held that it was the right of the candidate to seek for inspection of the evaluated answer books of such candidate, subject however to the condition that the names of evaluators had to be severed from such answer books.

 Para 66. “The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability. The provisions of the RTI Act should be enforced strictly and all efforts should be made to bring to light the necessary information under clause 9(b) of Section 4(1) of the Act which relates to securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities and in discouraging corruption. But in regard to other information (that is, information other than those enumerated in Sections 4(1)(b) and (c) of the Act), equal importance and emphasis are given to other public interests (like confidentiality of sensitive information, fidelity and fiduciary relationships, efficient operation of Governments, etc.,)”

      Institute of Companies Secretaries of India v. Paras Jain, 2019 SCC Online SC 764; “Thus it is clear that the avenue for seeking certified copies as well as inspection is provided both in the Right to Information Act as well as the statutory guidelines of the Appellant.”

The Court in addition to the above-cited precedents cited relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.

  • The applicant has to satisfy the parameters laid down in the Angesh Kumar’s case that is, (1) The applicant has to be a candidate in the exam (2) The applicant can only seek for his own answer scripts (3) The applicant is required to make an application in the prescribed form (4) The applicant is required to make payment of the due amounts for furnishing of the information pertaining to his evaluated and marked answer scripts (5) The information sought for should not come within the exceptions/exemptions under Section of the RTI Act.
  • The decision of the Supreme Court in Angesh Kumar’s Case refers to an embargo as regard providing confidential information of a candidate to third parties, information as regards the persons who have corrected the answer scripts. In the present case what the petitioner is seeking for is his own evaluated answer script. He has not sought for any information relating to any third party or any confidential information, but has sought for information only pertaining to himself. The Court disallowing the restrictions set by the aforementioned case, in the present facts and circumstances, observed, “Freedom of Information being a fundamental right as also human right any person would be entitled to apply for and receive information especially pertaining to himself which is held by any public authority. The reasons for requesting such information may be myriad. Whatever the reasons may be, when any particular information sought for is relating to the person applying for such information, the authorities concerned cannot refuse the furnishing of such information.”
  • After interpreting the relevant provisions of the Act, the Court said, “It was impermissible for the 2nd respondent to have removed the existing Public Information Officer and or appoint another Public Information Officer in place of such removed person.”
  • With respect to issue 4, the Court said, “There being no qualification prescribed under the RTI Act or F.I. Act, the public Authority concerned can appoint anyone as the Public Information Officer of that Authority. Consequently, the appointment having been made by the Public Authority, the Information Commission cannot seek to remove such a person appointed and or appoint any other person or Authority as a PIO. The powers of appointment or removal are solely vested with the public Authority, where the PIO is to be appointed.”

Decision

While allowing the present petition in part, the Court held that an applicant under RTI Act, 2005, seeking information related to himself, shall have an unqualified right against the same and the precedent set by the Angesh Kumar case should be interpreted in consonance with the facts and circumstances of the case at hand.[Karnataka Public Service Commission v. Vinay Kumar Ramaiah, 2020 SCC OnLine Kar 1636, decided on 26-08-2020]


Sakshi Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

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

Madras High Court: S. Vaidyanathan, J., observed that,

“Officials adopting a tactic answer in a mechanical manner that the information sought for is exempted in the light of Section 8(1)(d) of the Act, without actually ascertaining as to whether the information sought falls within the ambit of the said provision should be shown doors.”

Petition was filed challenging the order passed by the respondent by which information sought for by the respondent was directed to be supplied free of cost within 3 weeks.

The main duty of the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission is to conduct examinations and make selections to the services of the State in addition to the allied functions of extension of consultation in respect of disciplinary matters, recruitment methods, etc.

The following information was sought:

a) Total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;

b) Number of seats allocated to the Backward Community out of the total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;

c) Number of seats allocated to the Most Backward Community out of the total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;

d) Out of seats allocated to the Backward Community, the list of the selected candidates from the sub-castes of Muthuraja and Muthriyar;

e) Out of seat allocated to the Most Backward Community, the list of selected candidates from the sub-castes Ambalakarar;

f) Out of seat allocated to the Most Backward Community, the list of selected candidates from Vanniya Kula Shatriar sub-castes (Vanniyar, Vanniya, Vanniya Gounder, Kandar, Padayachi Palli and Agni Kular Shathriar).”

TNPSC replied that queries. ‘d’ to ‘f’ were exempted under Section 8(1)(d) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

On being aggrieved by the above-stated reply, the respondent approached the Tamil Nadu Information Commission wherein the impugned order was passed.

TNPSC submitted that being a Constitutional Functionary, it has a moral obligation to maintain confidentiality and in the event of furnishing of the details to the respondent, it would harm the interest of the third parties and the details regarding caste-wise breakup of the selected candidates got nothing to do with the public activity and such disclosure would amount to an invasion of the privacy of individuals, apart from the creation of communal discontent and strife.

It was stated that State has stopped the sporting of the caste behind the names of persons and at the time of publication of result, TNPSC used to indicate only the Class of candidates and not otherwise. Therefore, the direction to furnish such details, issued by TNIC is highly unsustainable and untenable.

Caste-Wise Breakup

Bench on perusal of the above stated that when the selection itself is based on caste wise quota, it cannot be accepted that it would amount to the invasion of privacy.

Disclosure of caste wise breakup will certainly inure to the benefit of candidates to ascertain as to whether they actually fall under the reservation quota or not.

Further, the Court added that as long as there is a provision for appointment on the basis of reservation, which prevents the authorities from unearthing those details to the public and when the details sought for by the respondent are furnished, it will throw a clear light/picture as to under what category, a candidate was placed.

A reading of Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act shows that it relates to commercial confidence, trade secrets, etc., and it does not strictly prohibit the authority concerned from providing such details, as divulging of caste details will surely be beneficial to candidates to doubly ascertain either about their induction or rejection and as such.

Transparent View

Hence the decision of the Second Appellate Authority holding that every citizen is entitled to a transparent view of the functioning of public authorities and the trepidation shown by the Public Authority with regard to the demand of such details by others will not be ground in denying details to the public in contra to the provisions of the RTI Act.

Supreme Court’s decision in State of U.P. v. Raj Narain, (1975) 4 SCC 428 vividly discussed the power of the Court to direct production of the document and under what circumstances, a privilege can be claimed as contained under contemplated under Sections 123 and 162 of the Evidence Act.

“…While discussing the issue, it was specifically held that the people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in public way by their public functionaries.”

Mere Pendency 

Bench added that nowadays, the Officials are used to adopt a tactic answer in a mechanical manner that the information sought for is exempted in the light of Section 8(1)(d) of the Act, without actually ascertaining as to whether the information sought falls within the ambit of the said provision.

Officers using the above-said tactic should be taught a lesson as they are unfit to hold the post of Public Information Officer or any other post in connection with the discharge of duties under the RTI Act and they should be shown the doors.

Court directed TNPSC to furnish the details to the respondent within a period of 1 month. TNPSC shall also ascertain the names of the Officials who have failed to discharge their official duties as adumbrated under the RTI Act, 2005.

The compliance report for the above-stated directions has been called for on 14-10-2020. [Tamil Nadu Public Sevice Commission v. P. Muthian, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 2167, decided on 7-09-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench of D.N.Patel, CJ and Prateek Jalan, J. dismissed the petition seeking information on PM CARES Fund while reserving liberty to the petitioner to prefer fresh proceedings before appropriate forum.

Present petition was filed seeking direction to the respondent to disclose any information sought by the petitioner or any other citizen of the country with respect to the source of funds and the details of expenses made from he funds of PM Cares Fund.

Petitioners’ counsel Senior Advocate Narender Hooda with Advocate, Aditya Hooda submitted that data regarding receipt and disbursement of funds in PM Cares Fund be uploaded on the PM Cares Fund website. 

Another submission made was that the prayers made in the petition had no application for seeking information under RTI Act, 2005 from the respondents.

In view of the above, Court found no reason to entertain the petition.

Accordingly, the petition was dismissed. [Dr Surendra Singh Hooda v. Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situation Fund, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 641, decided on 10-06-2020]

COVID 19Hot Off The PressNews

Direction sought for PM-CARES Fund to reveal money received and other details on its website.

As reported by ANI, A Public Interest Litigation was filed wherein transparency in the context of PM Cares Fund was sought.

In the said fund, petitioner had also sought direction to reveal information under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

It was added in the petition that, anybody that is “owned”, “controlled” or “substantially financed” by the government qualifies as a public authority under the RTI Act.

PM-Cares Fund was government controlled as well as substantially financed.

“The corpus of Rs 10,000 crore has been created by donations largely from the Public Sector Undertakings, Central Ministries and Departments and even the salaries of armed forces personnel, civil servants and members of the judicial entities have been compulsorily donated into the fund. If PM-Cares fund is held to be a public authority it needs to be examined as to whether the public authorities at the highest level could prompt the government agencies, public servants, to contribute to this funds whose details are now sought to be kept opaque.

Further the petitioner also stated that, reluctance in divulging information raises a “profoundly serious apprehension” since the fund had been established for a public cause for combating deadly pandemic.


[Source: ANI]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Chief Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava allowed a second appeal for information regarding mercy petition on the grounds that file notings and correspondence sent and received by Ministry of Home Affairs does not form a part of ministerial advice.

In the instant case, an application was filed by the appellant under Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) before Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) to seek information on several points pertaining to mercy petition of her son, who was a death row convict lodged at Yerwada Central Jail. The appellant filed a second appeal as CPIO denied information under Article 74(2) of the Constitution of India and there was no response to her first appeal.

Learned counsel, Ragni Ahuja, on behalf of the appellant contended that information pertaining to ministerial advice is protected under Article 74(2) of Constitution of India. But since the information sought by the appellant did not pertain to Article 74, she had been wrongly denied the said information. The counsel relied on the judgment of the Supreme Court in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 1, where the Court allowed the disclosure of not only correspondence but also notings by high constitutional functionaries, so the appellants requested the commission to direct the respondent to provide complete information. 

Learned counsel, Hari Mohan Jha, on behalf of the respondent contended that recommendations along with all documents lead to the formation of ministerial advice to the President of India is privileged under Article 74(2) of the Constitution and the same cannot be disclosed under RTI Act. The counsel relied on the case Union of India v. Central Information Commission, 2009 SCC OnLine Del 879, in which the commission gave directions for disclosure of information relating to correspondence between the former President of India and the then Prime Minister relating to Gujarat riots was set aside.

The Commission opined that file notings and correspondence received or sent by Ministry of Home Affairs pertaining to appellant’s mercy petition does not form a part of the ministerial advice to the President, and the file notings of the mercy petition filed could be provided to the appellant. The Commission observed that the file noting and the correspondence contained the names of the officials recording the same, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of those officials and hence its disclosure was exempted under Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act. Relying on S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 1, it directed the respondent to provide the information sought after severing all the names and other references which could reveal the identities of the public officials concerned.[Ujwala Kokde v. CPIO, Second Appeal No. CIC/MHOME/A/2017/609431, decided on 12-06-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: Alok Singh, J. dismissed a writ petition filed by Sahak Nagar Adhikari, who was Public Information Officer under Right to Information Act, 2005.

The petitioner contended that, a show cause notice was issued upon him which sought an explanation as to why a penalty should not be imposed upon him for providing delayed information. He gave a brief reply of the said notice and administered information to the said officer. Thereafter, State Information Commissioner adjudged the matter and imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 for delayed reply to the notice. He was aggrieved by the said order of the officer and therefore sought justice from the Court.

Mr Parikshit Saini, learned counsel for the petitioner, submitted that impugned order of the Information Officer was arbitrary and patently illegal, hence, was not maintainable. He argued that impugned order was ‘unreasonable’ and ‘non-speaking’, the officer failed to justify the penalty as he gave a brief reply as to why the delay was caused by him for discharging his duties. He relied on the judgment of Supreme Court, in Narendra Kumar v. CIC, 2014 (2) UD 72 where it was observed, “State Public Information Officer has decided any complaint or appeal without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time etc., in that event penalty can be imposed. In the further opinion of this Court, if there was reasonable cause for furnishing the delayed information then Chief Information Commissioner should not impose penalty merely because there was some delay in supplying the information.”

The Court observed that judgment in case Narendra Kumar was not applicable in the aforementioned case, as in the referred case information was not supplied in time because of natural disaster but in the case of petitioner there was delay of one year in supply of the information whereas Act, 2005 mandates to provide information within thirty days. Cause shown by the petitioner for delay in supplying the information was the excessive workload. The Court stated that, petitioner has not explained his excessive work; this was no ground for the delay in providing the information. One year delay in providing information under the Right to Information Act was too high.

It further held that Commissioner has assigned the reason for the penalty. “Providing information after one year that too on filing of appeal in the State Information Commission amounts to denial of information.” Court found no illegality or perversity in the impugned order and directed the petitioner to pay the aforementioned penalty.[Chandrakant Bhatt v. Uttarakhand Information Commission, 2019 SCC OnLine Utt 356, decided on 10-05-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

“Transparency of information is vital in curbing corruption. The approach of the court must be to attenuate the area of secrecy as much as possible consistently with the requirement of public interest.”

 Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of V. Chitambaresh and R. Narayana Pisharadi, JJ. dismissed an appeal filed by a co-operative society against an order directing furnishing of information sought under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Appellant – an agricultural development bank – was incorporated under the provisions of the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act, 1969. Respondent’s 4 and 5 sought certain information from the respondent 1 under the RTI Act relating to grant of loans and expenses incurred by the appellant in connection with the cases instituted with regard to certain loan transactions. Appellant was directed by first respondent to furnish the required information to the respondent’s 4 and 5. The said order was challenged in a writ petition wherein the learned Single Judge directed 1st respondent to hear the appellant and 4th respondent and any other interested party before furnishing information to the applicants.

Appellant’s contentions were: (i) that it is not a public authority under RTI Act and thus not liable to furnish the information, and (ii) that the first respondent had no authority to collect information from the appellant, and to furnish such information to respondent’s 4 and 5.

The Court noted that being a cooperative society, appellant was not a ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. Hence, it was not legally obliged to furnish any information sought for by a citizen under RTI Act. However, placing reliance on Thalappalam Service Co-operative Bank Limited v. State of Kerala, (2013) 16 SCC 82 it was opined that Registrar of Cooperative Societies can collect such information from the appellant which he is otherwise empowered to collect under the Kerala Cooperative Societies Act, and furnish that information to the applicant, subject to the restrictions under Section 8 of the RTI Act.

It was observed that the appellant’s case was not that it has no obligation under the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act to provide the information sought for. The right to privacy of a third party was protected by the direction issued by the learned Single Judge to hear the appellant and other interested persons before furnishing the information to the applicants. In view thereof, the writ appeal was dismissed.[Kunnathunad Taluk Primary Co-Operative Agricultural and Rural Development Bank Ltd. v. Registrar of Co-Operative Societies, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 726, Order dated 26-02-2019]