Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Saroj Punhani (Information Commissioner), harmonised the conflicting interests of the parties keeping with the letter and spirit of the Right to Information Act.

Following information was sought by the appellant:

  1. “Provide a copy of Thesis titled ‘Studies on some nitrogen fixing genes of Azotobacter vinelandi submitted/authored by Umesh Kumar Bageshwar which is catalogued in Dr Zakir Husain Library of Jamia Millia Islamia University under Access No. 130906. 
  1. If the said Thesis is not available for circulation, provide the reason(s) for inaccessibility/restricted circulation of the said Thesis with a copy of instructions, if any restricting such circulation.
  1. lf the said Thesis circulation is restricted, provide the guidelines/policy that govern restricted access in Dr. Zakir Husain Library of Jamia Milia Islamia University with a copy of categories of items that can be placed in restricted access.”

CPIO submitted that the thesis sought for by the appellant pertains to the work of a third party who had categorically informed the University not to disclose the thesis without having an NDA signed with him by the requestor concerned.

Further, CPIO explained that the averred scholar has already got a US Patent and he intends to file for an Indian Patent too with respect to the research wok documented in the averred thesis and has also apprehended that a number of foreign companies are trying to gain unrestricted access to the said work for commercially exploiting it without his consent.

In view of the commercial viability of the said thesis and the protected interest of the scholar and his guide, the FAA invoked Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act in order to deny the information to the appellant.

Adding to the above, emphasis was laid on the point that the research scholar informed the University that if any request for access to the said thesis comes that should be facilitated through him.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Commission observed that the appellant primarily harped on the relevant University Ordinances to insist that the thesis of the averred research scholar ought to be disclosed in the public domain as once the scholar submits the thesis to the University, it ceases to be the property of the scholar and hence the consent or dissent of the said scholar is not consequential to the disclosure of the thesis in the public domain.

In Commission’s view, the arguments of the representative of the Appellant questioning the originality of the said thesis or challenging the Patent filing on the grounds that the idea invested in the thesis is no more ‘novel’ are more in the nature of self-serving arguments or at best calls for the intervention of the University administration to assess if any procedural or ethical lacunae is pertinent in the award of degree based on the averred thesis in the context of the serious allegations of the Appellant.

Coram stated that the appellant may note that merely because University Ordinance prescribes publication of the thesis does not take away the protection available to the disclosure of the same under the RTI Act if exemption of Sections 8 and 9 therein is applied and justified.

thesis publication of the research scholars cannot be reasonably even brought under any of the suo motu components of disclosure envisaged under Section 4 of the RTI Act, thereby reinforcing the proposition that the protection of Section 8 and 9 exemptions is very much available to the CPIO in the instant case.

Further, adverting to the peculiarity of the instant case in the context of the serious allegations of the Appellant and the admitted stance of the CPIO that the third party intimated that the thesis be withheld from public disclosure or publication, the Commission deemed it expedient to harmonise the conflicting interests of the parties concerned in keeping with the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.

In view of the above discussion, Commission directed CPIO to provide a copy of the relevant and available instructions received from the third party requesting for the complete confidentiality of the said thesis. or in the absence of said record, any other corresponding document as available should be provided to the Appellant.

CPIO was also directed to provide the relevant and available guidelines governing restricted access of thesis submitted by the scholars of the University to the Appellant, in case the same was not available, a categorical statement shall be stated in the CPIO’s reply.

Appellant was at liberty to approach the University for the purpose of facilitating access to the thesis subject to the signing of NDA in consultation with the concerned research scholar.

Note for UGC

Instant case impliedly suggests that despite relevant University Ordinances stipulating access permission to the submitted thesis of scholars, the prerogative lies with the University to withhold one such thesis in absolute confidentiality on the grounds of commercial viability and market competition. If that be the message that the Respondent University is conveying, it may be assessed if the said prerogative of the University is backed by any UGC Regulations and if the same is conducive to the interests of the research community at large.

Hence, in regard to the above, Vice-Chancellor, JMI shall consider placing in the public domain any exceptions to the rule of granting access to the submitted thesis of the scholars in order to dispel the apprehensions of other fellow research scholars or the general public at large and to avoid casting aspersions on the work of the scholars.

In view of the above discussion, appeal was disposed of. [Rajeev Kumar v. CPIO, Jamia Milia Islamia; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 4459; decided on 12-04-2021]


Advocates before the Commission:

Appellant: Represented by Varun Sharma, Advocate through the intra-video conference.

Respondent: Dr Shakeb Ahmad Khan, Professor & CPIO present through intra- video conference.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Uday Mahurkar, Information Commissioner, reiterated that the candidates/students have the right to access their own answer sheets as per the provisions of the Right to Information Act.

In the present matter, the appellant sought the information regarding his own answer sheets which were evaluated and marked for all the subjects under the Limited Departmental Competitive Examination for promotion to the cadre of Assistant Accounts Officer.

Appellant submitted that he should be provided with the same as per the Supreme Court decision. Further, he added that there has been adequate suspicion that the respondent may destroy the Answer Sheets related to the LDCE – AAO, 2018 exam citing its record retention policy. But the same was denied by the respondent and an assurance was provided that no such act had been undertaken to destroy the answer sheets related to the said exam.

Commission in a plethora of earlier decisions decided that answer sheets should be furnished to the applicants in his own case and the same stand was taken by the Commission in the present matter also.

Respondent had been citing the Supreme Court’s decision in UPSC v. Agnesh Kumar, (2018) 4 SCC 530, which was limited to the Competitive Exams and did not cover the Departmental Exams per se held by the Public Authorities nor was applicable to situations where it was prima facie made out that larger public interest was involved.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Commission stated that the issue involved in the present matter of candidate’s access to his/her own answer sheet has been long settled by the Supreme Court in the decision of CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497, wherein following was held:

“…every examinee will have the right to access his evaluated answer-books, by either inspecting them or taking certified copies thereof unless the same was exempted under Section 8 (1) (e) of the RTI Act, 2005.”

Relevant observation from the above decision:

“11. The definition of „information‟ in Section 2(f) of the RTI Act refers to any material in any form which includes records, documents, opinions, papers among several other enumerated items. The term „record‟ is defined in section 2(i) of the said Act as including any document, manuscript or file among others. When a candidate participates in an examination and writes his answers in an answer-book and submits it to the examining body for evaluation and declaration of the result, the answer-book is a document or record. When the answer-book is evaluated by an examiner appointed by the examining body, the evaluated answer-book becomes a record containing the ‘opinion’ of the examiner. Therefore, the evaluated answer-book is also an ‘information’ under the RTI Act.”

In the Supreme Court decision of Mradul Mishra v. Chairman, UPSC, Civil Appeal 6723 of 2018 it was held that:

“14. In our opinion, permitting a candidate to inspect the answer sheet does not involve any public interest nor does it affect the efficient operation of the Government. There are issues of confidentiality and disclosure of sensitive information that may arise, but those have already been taken care of in the case of Aditya Bandopadhyay where it has categorically been held that the identity of the examiner cannot be disclosed for reasons of confidentiality.

  1. That being the position, we have no doubt that the Appellant is entitled to inspect the answer sheets. Accordingly, we direct the Respondent – U.P. Public Service Commission to fix the date, time and place where the Appellant can come and inspect the answer sheet within four weeks.” 

What is the link between the permission to access the answer sheet and the candidate’s right to life and livelihood?

Hence, in view of the above elaborative discussion, Commission held that the present issue involved larger public interest affecting the fate of all the students/candidate who wishes to obtain information regarding their own answer sheet which would have a bearing on their own career and in turn would ostensibly affect the right to life and livelihood.

Therefore, allowing a student to inspect their own answer sheet ought to be allowed as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.

Decision

Therefore, in the present matter, the Commission directed the respondent to furnish a copy of the candidate’s own answer sheet as sought in the RTI Application within a period of 30 days from the receipt of this order.

In view of the above, appeal was disposed of. [Venu C v. CPIO, General Manager (Finance) Postal Accounts, Department of Post; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 4306; decided on 24-05-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Amita Pandove (Information Commissioner) held that,

“…information which is available in record or accessible by a public authority can only be provided under the RTI Act.” 

“Appellant is not just pressurizing the Respondent public authority by seeking clarification/confirmation, but also harassing them by filing multiple queries followed by reminders, e-mail communications etc.” 

“…under the provisions of the RTI Act, disclosure of information is a rule and non-disclosure is an exception.”

Information was sought by the appellant through an RTI Application. On being dissatisfied, the appellant had filed the first appeal in October, 2018 which had not been adjudicated by the First Appellate Authority.

Appellant filed a second appeal under Section 19 of the RTI Act and sought information.

On query by the commission, appellant informed the Commission that two written submissions had been filed on his behalf, to which the Commission cautioned the appellant to desist from such practice as the same was not in accordance with the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.

Respondent submitted that the information sought by the appellant was voluminous and the same was scattered in many files. He added that providing photocopies of all the information required collection/collation of data, which attracted Section 7(9) of the RTI Act.

Appellant interjected to state that how the Commission can adjudicate the aspect of voluminous information. Upon query by the Commission as to on what authority he is making this statement, he failed to provide a substantiating reply. The Commission yet again cautioned the Appellant for vitiating the proceedings of the instant hearing.

Commission’s Decision

Coram noted that the appellant adopted a convoluted method to express the facts of the instant case.

Commission expressed that it is of the view that,

 As much as the CPIO has a statutory responsibility to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act, applicants filing a request under RTI Act should also keep in mind that they should not transgress the letter and spirt of the RTI Act by flooding RTI Applications, which are cumbersome, protracted and circumlocutory in nature.

 Commission admonished the appellant for going beyond the stipulated word limit, which troubled the respondent to ascertain what information had been sought and pertained to which Department.

Therefore, in Coram’s opinion the appellant instead of seeking information in a reasonable and comprehensible way resorted to adopting a tortuous method containing quite a lot of issues/queries in a disorganized manner, resulting in unfathomable hurdles on the part of the respondent.

Word of Caution by the Commission

“…Appellant being a responsible citizen who poses to be concerned about the functionality of the Respondent public authority must impliedly know his limitations while filing an RTI query before any Respondent public authority.  

 Commission strictly cautions him that in future, he shall holistically adhere to the relevant provisions of the RTI Rules, 2012 while filing any RTI Application before any public authority.”

Bench stated that the Appellant’s contention was rather preposterous because mere statements such as ‘involving larger public interest’ and ‘national interest’ do not suffice and the onus to prove the same lies with the Appellant.

Commission was put into doubt about the intention of the appellant whether he genuinely wants information or just wants to harass the Respondent public authority.

Majority of queries sought by the appellant were in respect to the PIO’s confirmation regarding certain aspects such as dates pertaining to commencing and concluding of certain constructions at Naval/Coast Guard berths, names of the vendors who were awarded contracts for the aforesaid construction, date of execution of the lease agreement etc. from the Respondent.

Information: Can the appellant seek any information under the sky?

Commission pointed out that though it is not mandatory to provide reasons for seeking information under the RTI Act, but the same does not mean that an applicant can seek all/any information under the sky.

 Further, it was observed that appellant relatively misinterpreted the term “information”.

Photography: Is it allowed under the RTI Act?

In the present matter, appellant has argued that photography is allowed under the RTI Act under Section 2(j)(iv) of the RTI Act.

Bench while considering the importance of the services rendered by the respondent public authority to the country as well as considering the information sought by the Appellant in the instant RTI Application, held that photography of the averred documents/records/information cannot be allowed because the question of photography arises only if the condition of the document/record is in a dilapidated state and cannot be photocopied anymore by repeated handling.

Commission elaborated that the appellant in a cyclostyled manner framed the queries of the instant RTI Application, wherein he had specifically asked the PIO to ‘CONFIRM’ the commencing and concluding date of certain constructions, ‘CONFIRM’ whether the Respondent has a copy of the NGT’s Order pronounced on 02.09.2016 concerning to the dredging and other expansions of MPT etc., which is beyond the purview of Section 2(f) of the RTI Act.

Commission opined that the appellant was only on a mission to seek vengeance or has some personal vendetta against the respondent public authority.

Appellant understood that the provisions of the RTI Act can be twisted according to his whims and fancies as well as to his requirements.

 It was added to the observations during the hearing, the Appellant rather made an attempt to mystify both the Commission as well as the Respondent by taking refuge on unconnected events or mentioning certain things without any proof.

The modus operandi adopted by the Appellant is nothing but a classic example of systematic persecution as well as wasting precious time of the public authority as well as the Commission at the cost of the public exchequer.

Commission finds that the Respondent has provided an opportunity to the Appellant to inspect the relevant records, which the Appellant is contesting till date, which is rather bizarre to note.

Commission further counselled the appellant that as per Section 6(1) of the RTI Act, Parliament made amply clear that while enacting the RTI Act it had categorically provided a right to an Indian citizen that he/she shall make a request and not requests.

Adding more to its remarks, Coram noted that Appellant rather appeared to have converted the provisions of the RTI Act as a tool of oppression/intimidation, which the Commission discourages outrightly.

Enough opportunity had been provided to the appellant to inspect the relevant records which he did not avail till date, hence no illegality was found on the part of the respondent for seeking proof of citizenship because considering the importance and sensitivity of the information sought in the instant RTI Application as well as the alleged antecedents of the appellant, the respondent public authority has on a selective basis and as a matter of abundant caution sought proof of citizenship from the Appellant.

Public authority has the liberty to seek proof of citizenship from an applicant, when he/she is seeking information, at times may be sensitive from security perspective and this concern can never be disregarded.

 Keeping in view the totality of circumstances discussed above, the Commission found no infirmity in the information provided by the Respondent.

Therefore, the appeal was dismissed in view of the above terms. [Samir Sardana v. CPIO, Mormugao Port Trust; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 4310; decided on 10-05-2021]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: Manoj Kumar Tiwari, J., partly allowed an appeal which was filed challenging an order passed by the State Information Commissioner by which a penalty of 25,000 had been imposed upon the petitioner for not providing timely information to respondent 2.

The application, under Section 6 (1) of the Right to Information Act, was made by respondent 2 to District Education Officer, who had referred the application to the petitioner for doing the needful. Petitioner had asked the Principal, Delhi Public School, Ranipur, to supply information; but, Principal, Delhi Public School had initially refused to supply the information on the ground that it is not bound to supply such information, however, subsequently, on petitioner’s persuasion, the desired information was supplied by the Principal, Delhi Public School to the petitioner which, in turn, was furnished to respondent 2.Fact of the matter was that the information was supplied to respondent 2 and the said penalty had been imposed on the ground that some delay was caused in supplying the desired information.

The court relied on the judgment of Public Prescribed Authority v. Uttarakhand State Information Commissioner, 2014 SCC OnLine Utt 2440 where it was held that,

            “A plain reading of Sub-Section 1 of Section 20 of the Act would reveal that penalty can be imposed for delayed information if delay was caused without any valid reason.

In the present case, explanation furnished by the petitioner before the Chief Information Commissioner was that concern file was not traceable in the department and same was got reconstructed later on and thereafter information was supplied to the applicant. Chief Information Commissioner has nowhere observed that explanation furnished by the petitioner is a mere eye-wash and is not reasonable.

In my considered opinion, if explanation for delayed information is reasonable and delay was caused due to valid reasons then penalty should not be imposed by invoking of Sub-Section 1 of Section 20. Therefore, impugned judgment does not sustain in the eyes of law. Consequently, writ petition is allowed. Impugned judgment dated 13.12.2011 is hereby quashed.”

The Court partly allowed the petition and held that penalty imposed upon the petitioner appeared to be unjust and uncalled for, setting aside the penalty.[Suman Agarwal v. State Information Commissioner, 2021 SCC OnLine Utt 297, decided on 08-03-2021]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case Briefs

Delhi High Court: In a petition seeking direction to quash the order of Central Information Commission, Jayant Nath, J. observed, “…where a public authority takes recourse to Section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act to withhold information, the burden is on the public authority to show that in what manner disclosure of such information could impede the investigation.”

Petitioner filed an RTI application on 05-09-2016 under Rule 6 of the RTI Act, 2005, seeking pointwise disclosure of information mentioned at serial no. 5(i) to 5(xxv). It is the case of the petitioner that the CPIO did not provide the correct information in respect of point 5(i) of the RTI application and further misled on other issues. The first appeal was filed by the petitioner on 10-10-2016 followed by a second appeal before the second appellate authority CIC. The grievance of the petitioner is precisely that, the respondent believed verbal submissions of the CPIO instead of the written submissions of the petitioner and allowed them to sustain their stand for non-disclosure by claiming exemption under Section 8(1) (h) of the RTI Act.

Court made a passing remark on the default committed by the petitioner, by not giving the entire personal details relevant in seeking the information so made. However, it decided to examine the impugned order of the CIC only on merits.

The order of the CIC dismissing appeal rested on the fact that disciplinary proceedings, as initiated by CBI, were pending against the petitioner and therefore the matter was covered under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. In light of the said finding, Court referred a catena of judgments based on non-disclosure of the information under Section 8.

  1. Director of Income Tax v. Bhagat Singh, MANU/DE/9178/2007; Court observed in the words, “Under Section 8(1)(h) information can be withheld if it would impede investigation, apprehension or prosecution of offenders. It is for the appellant to show how and why investigation will be impeded by disclosing information to the appellant. General statements are not enough. Apprehension should be based on some ground or reason.” [Reiterated in Union of India v. Manjit Singh Bali, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 10394] 
  2. Bhagat Singh v. CIC, (2008) 100 DRJ 63; Court made a significant observation with respect to the interplay of Section 3 and Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005 and further remarked, “Access to information, under Section 3 of the Act, is the rule and exemptions under Section 8, the exception. Section 8 being a restriction on this fundamental right, must therefore is to be strictly construed. It should not be interpreted in manner as to shadow the very right itself. Under Section 8, exemption from releasing information is granted if it would impede the process of investigation or the prosecution of the offenders. It is apparent that the mere existence of an investigation process cannot be a ground for refusal of the information; the authority withholding information must show satisfactory reasons as to why the release of such information would hamper the investigation process. Such reasons should be germane, and the opinion of the process being hampered should be reasonable and based on some material. Sans this consideration, Section 8 (1) (h) and other such provisions would become the haven for dodging demands for information.”
  3. S. Mathur v. Public Information Officer of Delhi HC, 2011 SCC OnLine Del 2592; is a case wherein the petitioner was placed under suspension pending disciplinary action and the Court therein held, “The scheme of the RTI Act, its objects and reasons indicate that disclosure of information is the rule and non-disclosure the exception. A public authority which seeks to withhold information available with it has to show that the information sought is of the nature specified in Section 8 RTI Act. As regards Section 8(1)(h) RTI Act, which is the only provision invoked by the Respondent to deny the Petitioner the information sought by him, it will have to be shown by the public authority that the information sought “would impede the process of investigation.” The mere reproducing of the wording of the statute would not be sufficient when recourse is had to Section 8(1)(h) RTI Act.”

The Court conclusively said that the impugned order only reveals that a chargesheet has been filed but no reasons are spelt out as to how the investigation might get hampered by disclosing the information as asked by the petitioner. In the absence of the same, Court directed back the matter to the CIC for consideration.[Amit Kumar Shrivastava v. Central Information Commission,2021 SCC OnLine Del 336, decided on 05-02-2021]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner) held that:

“Since filing of the Income Tax Returns by an individual with the Income Tax Department is not a public activity and rather it is in the nature of an obligation which a citizen owes to the State viz. to pay his taxes, this information could not be disclosed to the appellant in the absence of any larger public interest.”

In the instant application, the appellant sought the following information from the CPIO, Income Tax Officer:

  • “Please inform name and branch address of all those banks wherein my spouse Ms Mamta Arora was having account, at any point of time, during the financial years 2012-2013 to 2017-2018, the information is requested financial year-wise, the date of opening and closure of each bank account concerned be also informed and if any of the account is functional till the date of disposal of this application, then its functional status be also informed. The PAN card number of my spouse is APSPM8586N and her Aadhaar Card number is 319568028653.
  • Please provide details as to name and branch address of all those banks wherein my spouse Ms Mamta Arora has held any account, at any point of time, during the present financial year 2018- 2019. Date of opening and closure of each bank account concerned be also informed and if any of the bank accounts is functional till the date of disposal of this application, then its functional status is also informed.
  • Please inform what were the income tax slabs, for all the categories i.e. males, females, senior citizens etc. during the financial years 2012-2013 to 2017-2018, for assessment of income tax on the annual income of any resident Indian individual Etc.”

On being dissatisfied with CPIO’s response, appellant filed the instant second appeal before the Commission requesting to take appropriate legal action against the CPIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act and also to direct him to provide the sought-for information.

Decision

Commission observed that the opening words of Section 11 of the RTI Act are “CPIO…intends to disclose” which indicate that the procedure of Section 11 has to be followed only if CPIO intends to disclose the third party information.

Bench deduced that the CPIO is expected to follow the procedure of Section 11 when he “intends to disclose any information on record”.

Since the CPIO found no merit in disclosure, hence Section 11 was not invoked. Further, with regard to applicability of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 for non-disclosure of the third party bank details and Income Tax returns Commission referred to the Supreme Court’ decision in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission, (2013) 1 SCC 212.

Legal Issue

Whether the appellant claiming to be the legally wedded husband is entitled to seek information regarding his wife’s bank details and income tax returns?

To answer the stated question, Commission referred to the decision of Delhi High Court in Vijay Prakash v. UOI,2009 SCC OnLine Del 1731, wherein it was clarified that in a private dispute between husband and wife, the basic protection afforded by virtue of the exemption from disclosure enacted under Section 8(1)(j) cannot be lifted or disturbed unless the petitioner is able to justify how such disclosure would be in ‘public interest’.

Commission referred to the following decisions in regard to the disclosure of the information as sought in the instant application was of not larger interest:

[Bombay High Court] Shailesh Gandhi v. CIC, WP No. 8753 of 2013

[Delhi High Court] Naresh Kumar Trehan v. Rakesh Kumar Gupta, WP(C) No. 85 of 2010, 24-11-2014.

[Delhi High Court] Harish Kumar v. Provost Marshall, LPA No. 253 of 2012, 30-03-2012.

In light of Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005 bench stated that Ms Mamta Arora being a person other than the RTI applicant came within the definition of ‘third party’.

Hence, while concluding the decision, Commission held that the in view of the above-decision, Bench opined that in the absence of any larger public interest in the matter, the appellant was not entitled to seek information regarding the bank details and income tax returns of his wife which is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

Appeal was disposed of in view of the above. [Pawan Kumar Saluja v. CPIO, Income Tax Officer; Second Appeal No. CIC/CCITD/S/2019/120284; decided on 05-01-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner) decide whether a legally wedded wife can seek the information regard to income tax returns of her husband under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The instant application was filed before the CPIO, Income Tax Officer seeking the following information:

  1. “The copy of Form 16 issued by the company at Micro Focus Software Development, ‘LAUREL’, Block ‘D’, 65/2, Bagmane Techpark, C.V. Raman Nagar, Bengaluru for the year filed for 2016- 17, 2017-2018 & 2018-2019 of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.
  2. The relevant documents/papers relating to the Gross Annual Income of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.
  3. The relevant documents/papers relating to the Gross salary of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.”

The appellant filed the first appeal dated 11-01-2019 which was disposed of by the first appellate authority on 05-03-2019.

Thereafter, she filed a second appeal under Section 19(3) of the RTI Act before the Commission requesting to take appropriate legal action against the CPIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act, 2005 and also to direct him to provide the sought-for information.

Decision

Commission referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. CIC, (2013) 1 SCC 212 with regard to the applicability of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Legal Issue to be decided

Whether the appellant claiming to be the legally wedded wife of Mr Suman Chatterjee is entitled to seek details of his income tax returns i.e. Form 16?

In regard to the above question, Commission referred to the Delhi High Court decision in Vijay Prakash v. UOI,2009 SCC OnLine Del 1731, wherein it was clarified that in a private dispute between husband and wife, the basic protection afforded by virtue of exemption from disclosure enacted under Section 8(1)(j) cannot be lifted or disturbed unless the petitioner is able to justify how such disclosure would be in ‘public interest’.

Bench noted that in the present matter, the appellant did not succeed in establishing the information sought was for a larger public purpose.

Commission decided that since the filing of income tax returns by an individual is not a public activity and rather it is in the nature of an obligation which a citizen owes to the State. The said information cannot be disclosed to the appellant in the absence of any larger public interest.

Further adding to the above analysis, Bench stated that according to Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005 any person other than the citizen making a request for information can be termed as ‘third party’. Therefore, appellant being a person other than the RTI applicant surely comes within the definition of ‘third party’.

Bench did not find any public interest which outweighs the harm caused in its disclosure.

In light of several decisions of the Supreme Court and High Court, Commission opined that in the absence of any larger public interest in the matter, the appellant was not entitled to seek the details of the Income Tax returns filed by the third party, Mr Suman Chatterjee which is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Another significant point to be noted was that the appellant sought the disclosure of at least the ‘gross annual income’ of her husband so that she could defend her matrimonial case. Considering the said marital discord between the husband and wife vis-à-vis her right of maintenance, Commission opined that the respondent should consider providing the numerical figures of the gross annual income of her husband.

In light of the above observations, appeal was disposed of. [Amrita Chatterjee v. CPIO, Income Tax Officer; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 40; decided on 08-01-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Saroj Punhani, J., directed the CPIO of CBI to provide a cogent and descriptive justification for denying information to the appellant seeking certain information relating to lookout notice, detention notice, etc. issued against Vijay Mallya.

In the instant matter, appellant has sought information through eight points pertaining to lookout notice/detention notice/circular (LoC) issued on October 2015 relating to Vijay Mallya:

  • Furnish a copy of Lookout notice/detention notice /Lookout Circular (LoC) issued on October 12, 2015, and /or October 16, 2015, and or Lookout notice/detention notice / Lookout Circular (LoC) in October 2015 relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Furnish a Copy of Lookout circular (LoC) inform notice/Lookout on arrival Circular (LoC) etc. issued on 24 November, 2015, or last week in November 2015 relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Provide the Name and Designation of Officer who authorized to change/ alter /from Lookout notice /Lookout circular (LoC) detention notice issued on October 12, 2015, or October 16, 2015, to Lookout Circular (LoC) inform notice/Lookout on arrival Circular (LoC) etc issued in last week of November, 2015 or November 24, 2015, relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Provide a Copy of Act, Guidelines, Circulars, Notifications, office Memorandum Rules and Regulations, Copy of Act etc relating to Lookout notice/ detention notice /Lookout Circular (LoC) was issued on October 12, 2015 / Lookout circular (Loc) in October 2015 relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Furnish a Copy of Act, Guidelines, Circulars, Notifications, Office Memorandum Rules and Regulations, Copy of Act etc relating to Lookout Circular (LoC) inform notice etc issued in last week of November 2015, or November 24, 2015, relating to Vijay Mallya.
  • Telephone Number and Email Id of central public Information officer and Appellate Authority as per official Memorandum of Dept of personnel and training available on www.rti.qov.in > Circulars.
  •  Exact web link of the above information on your official web site in compliance to Dept of Personnel &_ Training, circulars guidelines e.g.No.1/1/2013-IR/2014 uploading of RTI replies etc. issued from time to time.

On being dissatisfied with CPIO’s information, the appellant had filed a first appeal dated 10-11-2018, later FAA’s order upheld the CPIO’s reply.

Appellant stated that the square denial of the information sought for under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act by the CPIO & the FAA is not appropriate as the case pertains to tenable allegations of corruption against Vijay Mallya for defaulting a loan of over Rs 9000 crore which is effectively public money and therefore the said information was crucial for the citizens.

CPIO submitted that primarily the appellant’s queries do not seem to be very clear in terms of the guidelines he referred to. Further, it was stated that at the time of the RTI application’s reply, the extradition case of Vijay Mallya was pending before the Court of Law in London and as on date two cases against him are pending investigation, in one of these cases the Chargesheet had been filed, while in the other case, the investigation is underway.

In view of the above-stated reasons, the information sought for was denied to the appellant under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

Decision

The commission observed that neither the CPIO’s reply nor the FAA’s order conveyed the proper reasons for invoking Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

Bench directed the CPIO to provide a reply to the appellant incorporating a cogent and descriptive justification for denying the information sought for under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

Appeal was disposed of in view of the above-stated. [Vihar Durve v. CPIO, CBI; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 2; decided on 12-01-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Suresh Chandra (Information Commissioner) observed that disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts may be in contravention of Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act.

Facts of the Case

The appellant filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 before the Central Public Information Officer, State Bank of India seeking the following information:

  • Furnish me (Yearwise from 2017 to 2018) the relevant portion of Statutory Report/Audit Report/any other report/certificates submitted by Chartered Accountants relating to Electoral Bonds from the books of accounts of SBI.
  • Guidelines, Circulars, Notifications, Office Memorandum Rules and Regulations, Copy of Act etc. issued to Statutory Auditor i.e. to Chartered Accountants to conduct relating to certification/audit/signing of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance of Electoral Bonds.
  • Name and Designation of Officer who is supposed to issue Guidelines, Circulars, Notifications, Office Memorandum Rules and Regulations, Copy of Act relating to certification of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance by Statutory Report i.e. Chartered Accountants relating to Electoral Bonds.
  • Furnish me (Yearwise from 2017 to 2018) relevant portion Accounting Standards, Guidance Notes applicable to conduct the certification/audit/signing of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance of Electoral Bonds.
  • Whether the details of Donor and Donee are available to Chartered Accountants relating to Electoral Bonds while certification/audit/signing of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance of Electoral Bonds.
  • Details of Donor and Donee made available to Chartered Accountants relating to Electoral Bonds while certification/audit/signing of Balance sheets, Profit and Loss Account, Financial Statement, Trial Balance of Electoral Bonds.
  • Details of Donor and Donee of Electoral Bonds from the books of accounts of (a) SBI Mumbai Main Branch Code 00300 (b) SBI Chennai Main Branch Code 00800 (c) SBI Kolkata Main Branch Code 00001 d) SBI New Delhi Main Branch Code 00691.
  • Letter written by Election Commission to The Secretary, Legislature Department Ministry of Law and Justice, Shastri Bhavan New Delhi relating to Electoral Bonds and its impact on Transparency, corruption in India.
  • Details/Records, Correspondence and the impact of certain amendments in the Income Tax Act, the Representation of the People Act 1951 and the Companies Act 2013 to introduce/issue Electoral Bonds for funding political parties of Transparency, corruption in India.
  • Telephone No. and Email ID of CPIO and Appellate Authority as per Official Memorandum of Det of Personnel and Training available on www.rti.gov.in>Circulars.

Dissatisfied with the response, the instant second appeal was filed before this Commission.

Appellant submitted that CPIO’s response was wrong, incomplete and misleading.

Further, the appellant pleaded that the SBI was supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of political parties and that the SBI was not in fiduciary capacity with any political party and hence had no legal duty to maximize the benefit of any public sector or private sector bank; there was no relationship of “trust” between them.

Adding to the above, appellant requested the Commission to direct the CPIO to provide the complete information and take necessary action as per Section 20(1) of the RTI Act.

With respect to point nos. 6 and 7 of the RTI application it was stated that the information in respect to those points was exempted under Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of RTI Act; information in respect of point no. 11 of the RTI application was not covered within the definition of “information” under Section 2 (f) of RTI Act and no link was maintained in respect of point no. 12 of the RTI Application.

The FAA held that the information relating to electoral bonds issued to various political parties sought by the appellant was held by the bank in fiduciary capacity and hence was denied to the appellant.

Decision

Commission of perusal of the facts and circumstances observed that the respondent revisited the RTI application and reiterated its earlier stand in respect of pint nos 6 and 7 of RTI application that disclosure of the information was exempted under the provisions of Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act.

Bench upheld the respondent’s contention that the disclosure of the names of the donors and donees of electoral bonds from books of accounts may be in contravention of Section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act.

While parting with order, Commission stated that there appeared no larger public interest overriding the right to privacy of the concerned donor and donees.

Hence, the appeal was dismissed. [Vihar Durve v. CPIO, SBI; 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 1327; decided on 21-12-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): 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]


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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]