Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Prathiba M. Singh, J., upheld that order of the Central Information Commission whereby a penalty of Rs 10000 was imposed on the petitioners for changing stands while not providing the information as sought by the applicant under the RTI Act.

The instant petition was filed by two officers working with the Union Bank of India as Central Public Information Officers (CPIO).

The above-two officers challenged the impugned Order passed by the Central Information Commission vide which penalties amounting to Rs 10,000 were imposed upon them.

Background

An RTI application was filed by the applicant who was the Chief Manager at the Union Bank of India wherein he sought the following information:

Details of the Board approval along with justification for giving exemption with regard to 3 years branch head service.

The Office of the CPIO had informed the applicant that copy of the board note, being an internal document of commercial confidence would be exempted from disclosure.

Even the appellant authority stated that the copy of the board approval was exempted from being disclosed under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act.

In the second appeal with regard to the matter, CIC found that there was no reason why complete information was not provided to the applicant and held that the responses provided were rather incomplete and evasive. Therefore, a show-cause notice to the CPIOs of the bank was issued.

On receiving the above show cause notice, the CPIOs responded stating that the information which was sought could not be found on record. Due to the change in stand by the petitioners, CIC imposed a penalty of Rs 10,000 under Section 20 of the RTI Act.

Analysis and Decision

Bench referred to this Court’s decision in R.K Jain v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 10957  wherein it was recognized that the CPIO, being the custodian of information or documents sought for, is primarily responsible under the scheme of the RTI Act to supply the information, and in cases of default, the penal action is to be invoked against the CPIO only.

In the decision of Registrar of Companies v. Dharmendra Kumar Garg (WP(C) 11271/2009, decided on 1st June, 2012), the role of CPIOs under the RTI Act was elaborately dealt with.

Further, in the decision of J.P. Agrawal v. Union of India, (WP(C) 7232/2009, decided on 4th August, 2011) the Single Judge recognized that:

CPIOs/PIOs are not merely “post offices” and have a crucial responsibility in facilitating the purpose of the RTI Act.

 In light of the above decisions, the High Court laid down the following principles:

i)  CPIO/PIOs cannot withhold information without reasonable cause;

ii)  A PIO/CPIO cannot be held responsible if they have genuinely rejected the information sought on valid grounds permissible under the Act. A mere difference of opinion on the part of CIC cannot lead to an imposition of penalty under Section 20 of the RTI Act;

iii)  Government departments ought not to be permitted to evade disclosure of information. Diligence has to be exercised by the said departments, by conducting a thorough search and enquiry, before concluding that the information is not available or traceable;

iv) Every effort should be made to locate information, and the fear of disciplinary action would work as a deterrent against the suppression of information for vested interests;

v) PIO/CPIO cannot function merely as “post offices” but instead are responsible to ensure that the information sought under the RTI Act is provided;

vi) A PIO/CPIO has to apply their mind, analyze the material, and then direct disclosure or give reasons for non-disclosure. The PIO cannot rely upon subordinate officers;

vii) Duty of compliance lies upon the PIO/CPIO. The exercise of power by the PIO/CPIO has to be with objectivity and seriousness the PIO/CPIO cannot be casual in their approach.

viii) Information cannot be refused without reasonable cause.

Conclusion

Hence, the Court held that under the RTI Act, the CPIOs have a solemn responsibility.

Section 5(3) requires that every CPIO or SPIO shall deal with requests for information and `render reasonable assistance’ to the persons seeking information.

CPIOs or SPIOs can seek assistance from higher/other officials in the organisation in order to enable them to furnish the information sought for the `proper discharge’ of their duties, as per Section 5(4).

 In the present matter, CPIOs changed their stands which would go on to show that there was an intention to withhold certain important documents or information, leading to the finding of mala fides and unreasonable conduct.

In light of the above, Court opined that the penalty imposed could not be faulted with. However, considering the fact that both the CPIOs since retired from the service of the Bank, the penalty was reduced to Rs 5,000 each. [Rakesh Kumar Gupta (Erstwhile CPIO) Union Bank of India v. CIC, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 194, decided on 22-01-2021]


Advocates for the parties:

For the Petitioners: Mr O.P. Gaggar, Advocate.

For the Respondents: Mr Gaurang Kanth, Standing Counsel with Mr Aman Singh Bakhshi, Advocate.

Op EdsOP. ED.

Right to Information Intertwined with Right to Privacy of Personal Information

The Right to Information (RTI) is considered as a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution[1] and is often described as a tenet for strengthening the pillars of democracy. The Right to Information Act, 2005 provides for transparency and accountability of Government through access of information to the general public.

On the other side, the right to privacy is also considered as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution since 2017 when the Supreme Court ruled so in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India[2].

The real challenge is when both these rights are at crossroad and enforcement of any one would lead to other being overridden. Thus, the RTI Act, 2005 paves the way for right to privacy by restricting the disclosure of the information which interferes with the privacy of any individual unless it is required for greater public good[3].

In Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission[4] (Girish Deshpande), the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the Central Information Commission (CIC) can deny the information pertaining to the personal matters of a public servant, pertaining to his service career and the details of his assets, liabilities, movable and immovable properties on the basis of exception mentioned in Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Section 8(1)(j) of the  RTI  Act, 2005 provides that: Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen 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 Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.

The Court while expanding the scope of Section 8(1)(j) of the Act in the aforementioned case held that the documents pertaining to the public servant including his employment letter, assets, income tax return, details of gift received, orders of censure/punishment are exempted from being disclose by the virtue of Section 8(1)(j) and qualifies to be personal information. It further observed that the performance of an employee/officer in an organisation is primarily a matter between the employee and the employer and these aspects are governed by the service rules which fall under the expression “personal information”, the disclosure of which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of that individual.

Further, the Supreme Court in R.K Jain v. Union of India[5] wherein the appellant sought copies of all note sheets and correspondence pages as contained in an Annual Confidential Report (ACR) and any follow up action pertaining integrity of a public servant was denied on the basis of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

Similarly, in 2017 the Supreme Court again reiterated its position in the judgment of Canara Bank v. C.S. Shyam[6], wherein the information sought was of personal information of an employee of Canara Bank. The court while affirming the position of Girish Deshpande[7] as well as R.K. Jain v. Union of India[8] held that personal information is outside the ambit of the RTI and that there was no public interest having larger good involved in respect of personal information being sought.

Privacy Upheld by Judiciary in the Often Referred to “Name and Shame” Decision in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

Recently, after the promulgation of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 (CAA), there were nationwide protests against the Government and the CAA which led the Uttar Pradesh Government/administration to take an unforeseen action against the protestors who were accused of vandalism. The administration displayed banners in the city of Lucknow which had all the details of those protestors including their photographs, name and address, against whom the administration had initiated actions to claim compensation for public vandalism.

The poster sought to confiscation of property if the accused failed to pay up the compensation. This found widespread telecast and reporting in print. The Allahabad High Court had taken a suo motu cognizance of such move considering it to be a gross violation of right to privacy as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The Court although had not referred to the judgment of Girish Deshpande[9], but had held that such move by the UP Government was uncalled for and breached the right to privacy of the rioters. Though the judgment in Girish Deshpande[10] had little relation to the referred case here, but it is worth mentioning in the context of right to privacy of personal information which won in this case.

Let us try to Analyse Excerpts of the Ruling by the Allahabad High Court

It has been often said that the right to privacy provides lungs to the edifice of the constitutional system. The slightest injury to this right is impermissible as it would put the values designed and depicted in the Preamble of the Constitution to jeopardy. Primarily, the foregoing was upheld in the ruling by the Allahabad High Court.

The act on the part of district and police administration of Lucknow was in conflict with the right of life and liberty of individuals. The territorial jurisdiction of the Allahabad High Court which was challenged was put to rest with the argument that despite the fact that the action might have happened in Lucknow and no personal injury was caused, but the act on the part of the administration demonstrated gross ignorance of constitutional and democratic values and the fact that it was widely prone to public dissemination via media, it could lead to form a State-wide nature of impugned action.

The administration’s logic to display the names of the accused at a conspicuous place was that it should act as a deterrent to public to take law in their hands and was in public interest. This was challenged to be in violation of people’s fundamental rights. Further, it was held that there was no provision in the current law by which the Government could display such names in public fora and that those persons were not even fugitives.

The Allahabad High Court also questioned rational nexus between the object (to deter public at large from participating in such illegal acts of rioting, etc.) and means (display of identity against whom compensation has been claimed for destroying public property) adopted to achieve the object and further how the extent of interference is proportionate to its need. It was said that the fact that only few peoples’ name was put on the banners while there must be several thousand cases against several accused in the State for several serious crimes, the administration had done a colourable act in exercise of its executive powers.

UP authorities was ordered to take down banners from the road side displaying the personal information of individuals and not to do such acts without authority of law.[11] The UP Government has appealed against the aforesaid order before the Supreme Court, which has not been stayed yet and has been referred to a larger Bench.[12]

Right to Fair Trial over and above Right to Privacy

The issue[13] arose through a matrimonial dispute wherein the family court had admitted a Compact Disk (CD) filed by husband wherein the wife could be heard talking ill about the husband and his family. The husband contended that such derogatory remark amounts to cruelty. Thereafter, the wife approached the Delhi High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution seeking dismissal of the CD being taken on record as evidence. The reasoning provided by wife was that the CD was tampered, therefore unreliable and that the conversation between her and so called friend was recorded without her knowledge or consent which constituted violation of her fundamental right to privacy, therefore not admissible as evidence. For the purpose of case analysis here, we will only consider the legal point pertaining  privacy.

The argument put forth by wife was that privacy had been recognised by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right, available to a person not only against the State but also against private individuals as is recognised by the Supreme Court in  K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India[14].

On the other hand, husband’s contention was that although privacy had been recognised by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right, but it was not absolute and subject to reasonable restrictions.

Relying upon other judicial precedents, it was urged that the husband was entitled to establish cruelty on the wife’s part and to prove his case seeking dissolution of marriage on that ground under the family law concerned. Accordingly, the wife’s right to privacy must accede to the husband’s right to bring evidence to prove his case, else the husband would be denied the right to fair trial guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The single Judge Bench while considering the various judicial precedents cited on both sides  categorically held that in the case of conflict between two rights i.e. right to fair trial and right to privacy, the fundamental right to privacy had to yield to right to fair trial and thus any incriminating evidence collected through breach of privacy was admissible in the court of law. The court had harmoniously interpreted two fundamental rights which flows out from Article 21 of the Constitution and had observed that no fundamental right is absolute.

The Court relied upon the decision of the Supreme Court in M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra[15]  wherein it was contended that the evidence collected should be inadmissible being an illegally compelled evidence and thus is violative of Article 20(3) of the Constitution, the Supreme Court held that although the search or seizure was illegally conducted and may amount to breach of a fundamental right but that would not make the search or seizure invalid in law. The court also relied upon a Supreme Court decision of Pooran Mal v. Director of Inspection (Investigation),[16] wherein the seizure of account books, documents and valuables by income tax authorities was challenged to be in conflict with Articles 14, 19(1)(f), 19(1)(g) and 31 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court while interpreting the provision of the Evidence Act, 1872 noted that the only test of an admissibility of evidence is its relevancy  and thus it is immaterial whether the evidence is procured through an illegal search or seizure.

Investigation is an Intrusion to Privacy, but the Unearthing of Truth must Happen in the Interest of Justice

The year 2020 has not only been marred by so many deaths due to  Covid-19, but also under mysterious circumstances particularly the much media investigated and publicised case of  Sushant Singh Rajput. Due to dissemination of personal information in public both from the right and wrong parties (referring to the parties in dispute), there is a privacy angle that has gained prominence.

In normal instances, investigation are done by State police and investigative bodies under the Government (State or Central, or both), but the mysterious stories including foul play circling round the matter has allowed the media to take centre stage in investigation. One of the good instances wherein due to free media reporting, the case is probably heading in the right direction otherwise it would have gone under cover long ago. Interestingly, from call data records to WhatsApp chats are on display in several news channels.

Now, this is personal information. Given the background, it may be worthwhile to look into some judicial pronouncements particularly from the admissibility of evidence and court’s opinion on privacy with respect of phone taping. It may be further provided that in current times a separate process is required for accessing phone records from the telecom providers and these pronouncements should not be read in entire isolation.

In R.M. Malkani v. State of Maharashtra[17] it has been held that conversation that is tape-recorded by an external device, without tampering or interrupting telephone lines, is admissible in evidence. In this case the Supreme Court has spelt-out three conditions for admissibility of a tape recording, namely, (a) relevance, (b) voice identification; and (c) proof of accuracy. Further it has been held that evidence, even if procured illegally, is admissible.

In another case of Tukaram S. Dighole v. Manikrao Shivaji Kokate[18], it has been held that tape recordings of speeches are documents under Section 3 of the Evidence Act, 1872 which stand on no different footing than photographs, and are admissible after satisfying the three conditions as laid down inter alia in R.M. Malkani[19]. Further in N. Sri Rama Reddy v. V.V. Giri[20], it has been held that a tape recording can be used to corroborate as well as contradict evidence.

There has been contrary pronouncements as well to include as in State of Punjab v. Baldev Singh[21] where the Supreme Court has held that while considering the aspect of fair trial, the nature of the evidence obtained and the nature of the safeguard violated are both relevant factors. Courts cannot  allow admission of evidence against an accused where the court is satisfied that the evidence had been obtained by conduct of which the prosecution ought not to take advantage, particularly when that conduct causes prejudice to the accused.

With times changing, tape recordings have been replaced with WhatsApp chats, however the above principles should still be applicable subject to any evolving judicial pronouncements and evidence laws pertaining e-information.

To conclude, right to privacy is not an absolute right and has to be placed in the context of other rights and values depending upon the facts of the case. And we see the beam balance swaying on either side when right to privacy and other rights are involved as we researched in the foregoing.


*Bhumesh Verma is Managing Partner at Corp Comm Legal and can be contacted at bhumesh.verma@corpcommlegal.in. **Sayantan Dey, Legal and Compliance Professional and Ujjwal Agrawal, Student Researcher Corp Comm Legal.

[1]      Bennett Coleman and Co. v. Union of India, (1972) 2 SCC 788: AIR 1973 SC 106; State of U.P. v. Raj Narain, (1975) 4 SCC 428; Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641: 1986 AIR SC 515.

[2]      (2017) 10 SCC 1.

[3]      S. 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

[4]      (2013) 1 SCC 212.

[5]      (2013) 14 SCC 794.

[6]    (2018) 11 SCC 426.

[7]      Supra (Note 4).

[8]      Supra (Note 5).

[9]      Supra (Note 4).

[10]    Supra (Note 4).

[11]  Banners Placed on Road Side in the City of Lucknow, In re, 2020 SCC OnLine All 244.

[12]  <https://www.livemint.com/news/india/sc-new-bench-to-hear-plea-against-allahabad-hc-order-on-lucknow-posters-11584003637212.html>.

[13]    Deepti Kapur v. Kunal Julka, 2020 SCC Online Del 672.

[14]    (2017) 10 SCC 1.

[15]    AIR 1954 SC 300.

[16]    (1974) 1 SCC 345.

[17]    (1973) 1 SCC  471 : AIR 1973 SC 157.

[18]    (2010) 4 SCC 329.

[19]    (1973) 1 SCC  471 : AIR 1973 SC 157.

[20]    (1970) 2 SCC 340.

[21]    (1999) 6 SCC 172.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Nitin Jamdar and Milind Jadhav, JJ., took strong objection to the fact that despite the Office Memorandum dated 07-10-2016 [specifying that the personal details of the applicants under Right to Information Act should not be put up on the website], for four years, 4,474 RTI applications with personal details of the applicants were uploaded on the website of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. According to the Court, looking at the magnitude of the lapse, it cannot be treated as just a routine internal matter. The Court also placed the responsibility of ensuring that necessary enquiry is conducted and that too in time bound manner upon the highest official in the Ministry, the Secretary.

Petitioner who is a former journalist had applied under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs seeking details regarding a campaign launched by the Government of India. The said application was transferred to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Petitioner submitted that it had instituted court proceedings on some sensitive social issues and started receiving threatening calls and messages. A mob had also gathered outside his residence. He noted that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has uploaded his personal details and uploaded the application filed by him.

Hence in view of the above, petitioner filed the instant petition for a direction that the petitioner’s personal details be removed from the website of Ministry of Information and broadcasting further he sought damages for mental agony.

During the hearing on 15-10-2020, the Counsel appearing for the Ministry had accepted that the Department of Personnel and Training had issued a memorandum on 7-10-2016, specifying that the personal details of the applicants under Right to Information Act should not be put up on the website. The said memorandum did not reach the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and with its knowledge, corrective action was taken.

In Avishek Goenka v. Ashish Kumar Roy, WP No. 33290(W) of 2013 decided by Calcutta High Court on 20-11-2013, Mr Goenka claiming to be an activist in the field of Right to Information, had approached the Calcutta High Court with the contention that the authority should not insist upon the detailed address of the applicant under the Act of 2005 as and when an application is made under the said Act.

In the above-cited decision, Division Bench considered Section 6(2) of the RTI Act and held that it would be the duty of the authority to hide such details and particularly from their website so that people at large would not know of the details. On 20-11-2013, the Court passed the order accordingly, and the Secretary, Ministry of Personnel was directed to circulate the copy of the order to all concerned so the authority can take measure to hide personal details of the activists to avoid any harassment by the persons having vested interests.

Ministry of Personnel had issued an Office Memorandum on 07-10-2016 wherein the Calcutta High Court decision was referred to in which it was directed that personal details of RTI applicants should not be disclosed. The legal position is thus clear that personal details of the applicant under the Act of 2005 should not be uploaded on the website.

Bench stated that the respondents could not seek dismissal of the petition contending that the petitioner was not the only victim of an irregularity, more particularly when the breach was in regard to an enactment which is an essential component of a working democracy.

Adding to the above, Court stated that respondent Ministry contends that it was not aware of the Official Memorandum dated 07-10-2016 and when it became aware, it took suitable action. This response is vague. There is no such general concept of awareness of a government department. Either the government department receives an official communication, or it was not received.

Right to Information Act is a unique and vital piece of legislation.

In the Calcutta High Court decision cited in the above paragraphs had cautioned of the intimidatory tactics of unscrupulous elements against such applicants. Based on this Court order, Office Memorandums were issued directing removal of personal details.

Uploading the personal details of the applicants is thus not only unnecessary, but it may also make some of the applicants vulnerable to unscrupulous elements.

Bench in the instant matter also observed that,

“Informed citizenry and transparency of information are vital for the functioning of democracy. Noticing that personal details of other applicants are put up in the public domain, some of those who want to seek information for the larger good may be deterred for the fear of being targeted.”

In the present matter, Court stated that it intends to place the responsibility of ensuring that necessary enquiry is conducted and that too in a time-bound manner upon the highest official in the ministry, the Secretary. If the enquiry will result in punitive action against the guilty government servants it would follow the applicable Rules and Regulations.

With regard to the claim for damages by the petitioners, Court stated that it is not the position of law that in writ jurisdiction, the moment the court concludes that a right is breached, damages must follow as of course without any further enquiry.

Courts grant damages in public law more in the cases of the poor and downtrodden who may not have the means to enforce their rights in private law. The law of damages requires various parameters to be evaluated.

Hence in the present case, the claim for damages is left open to be agitated in the appropriate civil forum.

With the following directions, the petition was disposed of:

(a) The papers of this Petition along with a copy of the replies filed by the Respondent and the copy of this order be placed before the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

(b) Responsibility is placed on the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, to ensure that a suitable enquiry is held in the issues highlighted in this judgment regarding the uploading of the personal details of the applicants contrary to the Office Memorandum concerned.

(c) After a due enquiry, suitable disciplinary action will be taken as per the governing rules and regulations.

(d) Action under Clauses (b) and (c) will be completed within three months, that is by the first week of February 2021, from the date the order is placed before the Secretary as per clause (a).

(e) The report be submitted to the Registry of this court by the Secretary, under his signature of completing the action taken as per clause (c ) within two weeks thereafter, that is by the third week of February 2021

(f) If no report is submitted to this Court within the time stipulated, liberty to the Petitioner to move an application in this petition. This liberty is irrespective of the action that the Court may take under its powers for non-compliance.

(g)The Respondent will deposit the cost of the petition quantified at Rs 25000 in the Registry of this court within three weeks from today, which petitioner will be entitled to withdraw.[Saket S. Gokhale v. Union of India,  2020 SCC OnLine Bom 2313, decided on 05-11-2020]


Saket Gokhale, Petitioner in Person.

Rui Rodrigues with D.P. Singh for the respondent.

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) addressed an RTI application filed seeking the following information:

  1. Names of students of Class 8th and 12th students who were given admission under EWS Quota for the session 2017-18. Provide information in detail.
  2. Names of Class 12th students who fall under EWS Quota in the final year.
  3. Provide the names of parents/Guardians of Class 8th and 12th students who were given admission under EWS Quota in the year 2017-18.
  4. Provide copies income certificates submitted by Class 8th and 12th students who were enrolled under EWS Quota in the year 2017-18?

Applicant on being dissatisfied with the response and aggrieved with the same approached the Commission with the instant second appeal.

Respondents stated that data about online registration of students is available since the year 2018-19, while the appellant seeks information pertaining to the academic year 2017- 18, hence the information could not be readily provided.

He further explained that before the implementation of the Right to Education Act, admissions to students from economically weaker sections were given under the freeship quota. The registration of students under EWS quota is not done at the stage of class 8 or 12, hence data sought by the appellant is not readily available.

Hence, in view of the above, the information sought by the appellant could not be readily provided.

Decision

Commission noted that the reply of the respondent that information about admissions under EWS[Economically Weaker Section] quota is not available in their office is totally unacceptable.

The respondent being the regulatory authority of all educational institutions cannot remain oblivious nor avoid questions relating to such crucial information which involves the implementation of the Right to Education Act.

Further, the commission added that information about names and particulars of students is personal information held by the school in a fiduciary capacity disclosure of which would invade the privacy of the concerned children.

RTE Act makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools, requiring all private schools(except the minority institutions) to reserve 25% of seats for children belonging to the economically weaker section of society.

Respondent was directed to provide information about the total number of students, if any, admitted under EWS quota in Class 8 and Class 12 for the academic year 2017-18.

Appeal was disposed of in the above terms.[Anita Chaudhary v. PIO, DDE-ZONE II, Dte, of Education, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 731, decided on 09-06-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

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

Reasoning for information sought:

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

ICMR

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

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

Commission’s Observation and Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court:  The Court has asked the Centre and State Governments to file reply on a plea seeking direction to establish Right to Information(RTI)  web portals in all states to enable citizens, especially those living abroad, to file RTI  applications online. A bench headed by Justice NV Ramana asked them to file a reply in two weeks and the petitioner to file a rejoinder thereafter. It said that no further adjournment would be granted to the parties.

The order was passed on a plea filed by Pravasi Legal Cell contending that none of the states, except Delhi and Maharashtra, have set up the online RTI portals.

Under the RTI  Act, any citizen of India may request information from a public authority which is required to reply within thirty days.

(Source: ANI)

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Holding that non­governmental organisations substantially financed by the appropriate government fall within the ambit of ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the bench of Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose has held,

“If NGOs or other bodies get substantial finance from the Government, we find no reason why any citizen cannot ask for information to find out whether his/her money which has been given to an NGO or any other body is being used for the requisite purpose or not.”

Noticing that the RTI Act was enacted with the purpose of bringing transparency in public dealings and probity in public life, the Court said that while interpreting the provisions of the RTI Act and while deciding what is substantial finance one has to keep in mind the provisions of the Act.

On the issue relating to what constitutes ‘substantial finance’, the Court said ‘substantial’ means a large portion. It does not necessarily have to mean a major portion or more than 50%.  No hard and fast rule can be laid down in this regard.  Whether an NGO or body is substantially financed by the government is a question of fact which has to be determined on the facts of each case. There may be cases where the finance is more than 50% but still may not be called substantially financed.

“Supposing a small NGO which has a total capital of Rs.10,000/­ gets a grant of Rs.5,000/­ from the Government, though this grant may be 50%, it cannot be termed to be substantial contribution. On the other hand, if a body or an NGO gets hundreds of crores of rupees as grant but that amount is less than 50%, the same can still be termed to be substantially financed. “

Another aspect for determining substantial finance is whether the body, authority or NGO can carry on its activities effectively without getting finance from the Government. If its functioning is dependent on the finances of the Government then there can be no manner of doubt that it has to be termed as substantially financed.

[DAV College Trust and Management Society v. Director of Public Instructors, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1210, decided on 17.09.2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: The Court has reserved order on two contempt petitions filed against Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for not complying with the Supreme Court’s direction to disclose information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

A bench headed by Justice L Nageshwar Rao reserved the order after hearing the parties in the case, Girish Mittal and Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who filed contempt pleas. The two had claimed that RBI and its former Governor Urjit Patel had “willfully and deliberately” disobeyed the Court’s judgement asking the central bank to disclose information under the RTI Act. The two pleas sought initiation of contempt of court action against former Governor for not disclosing information as directed by the top court. One of the contempt plea filed by Girish Mittal said that RBI refused to provide information sought about the inspection reports of some banks.

In December 2015, the petitioner under the RTI Act had sought certain information which included copies of inspection reports of ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank and State Bank of India from April 2011 till December 2015. The petitioner had also sought copies of case files with file notings on various irregularities detected by RBI in case of Sahara Group of companies and erstwhile Bank of Rajasthan by these entities themselves and their known/unknown promoters. However, RBI denied the information in January 2016 that such information is exempted under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act  and Section 45NB of the Reserve Bank of India Act.

The petitioners contended that top court in 2016 while directing disclosure of a very similar type of information sought under the RTI Act had observed RBI  is clearly not in any fiduciary relationship with any bank. Filing the contempt pleas, petitioners stated that the responses of RBI are in complete violation of the apex court judgment by which it was held that RBI ought to act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass individual banks and it is duty bound to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act and disclose the information sought.

(Source: ANI)

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

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

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): A Single-member Bench comprising of Bimal Julka, Information Commissioner, disposed of an appeal directing the appellant to approach the appropriate forum for her grievance redressal while holding that jurisdiction of the Commission was restricted to the function of ruling on the matters pertaining to right to information.

The appellant who was not present before the Commission, vide RTI application, sought information regarding the action taken by the respondent- Life Insurance Corporation, on the representation made by her claiming insurance under policy number as mentioned in the RTI application. The CPIO (LIC) forwarded appellant’s application to the Manager, Health Insurance, for necessary action. Dissatisfied, the appellant approached the first Appellate Authority (FAA). The FAA provided a point wise response to appellant’s query. Aggrieved by the action taken by the respondent Corporation, the appellant preferred the instant appeal.

The Commission perused the record and held that FAA had provided a proper response to the query raised by the appellant in her RTI application. As for the redressal of appellant’s grievance that the action taken by the Corporation was not satisfactory, the Commission observed that the framework of the Right to Information Act 2005, restricts the jurisdiction of the Commission to provide a ruling on the issues pertaining to access to/ right to information. The Act does not allow the Commission to venture into the merits of the grievance. The Commission referred to a plethora of precedents to hold that proceedings under the RTI Act cannot be converted into proceedings for adjudication of disputes as to the correctness of the information furnished. Further, the Commission does not decide the dispute between two parties concerning their legal rights other than their right to get information in possession of a public authority. Since the appellant was not present, the Commission went on to hold that in view of the facts of the case and submission made by the respondent, no further intervention of the Commission was required. For redressal of her grievance, the appellant was directed to approach the appropriate forum. The appeal was accordingly disposed of. [M. Meenatchi v. CPIO (LIC) ,2018 SCC OnLine CIC 750, dated 11-06-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): The Commission recently dealt with an appeal seeking information regarding ‘Mann ki Baat’ program which was further disposed of by the commission on no additional scope of intervention.

The RTI application filed sought information regarding ‘Mann ki Baat’ program which included the information of the total number of video, audio and in writing messages received from the start by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India. For the said issue, appellant was responded by the CPIO on 04-12-2017.

The respondent stated in response to the appeal that various suggestions and grievances are received under the said program from several sources and based on the nature of communication, they are forwarded to the concerned departments. Due to such voluminous data being received and forwarded to different departments based on the issue, it gets all scattered and retrieving all the information to be served would eventually require the resources from the office to work on this instead of the normal discharge of its functions attracting Section 7(9) of the RTI Act. It was also stated that no particular officials have been assigned to handle the communication received under ‘Mann ki Baat’.

Therefore, noting and observing the stated reasons filed by the respondent, Commission was satisfied and was in its favour which further lead the appeal to be disposed of. [Aseem Takya v. CPIO, PMO,2018 SCC OnLine CIC 391, order dated 05-06-2018]

 

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: An appeal from the response of CPIO, Ministry of Human Resource and Development, was dismissed by Bimal Julka, Information Commissioner.

The appellant, in his RTI application, sought information on eight points regarding the guidelines issued by the Government in regards to education fees levied by private schools, re-admission to private schools, etc. However, no response was provided by the CPIO. Dissatisfied by the same, the appellant filed the instant appeal. The respondents claimed that a response had been provided to the appellant in each point mentioned in his application. They also submitted a receipt of written submission. A copy of reply was also presented.

The Commission perused Sections 2(f) and 2(j) of the RTI Act 2005 and also referred to the Supreme Court decision in CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497, wherein it was held that the reference to ‘opinion’ or ‘advice’ in the definition of ‘information’ in Section 2(f) only refers to such material as is available in the records of public authority. Further, under the Act, an applicant is entitled to get a copy of opinion, advice, circular, etc. but he cannot ask as to why such material had been passed. Since the appellant was not present to contest the submissions of the respondents, the Commission accepted the submissions made by the respondents and dismissed the appeal. [Javed Ahmed v. CPIO, Ministry of Human Resource and Development, 2018 SCC OnLine CIC 312, dated 10-5-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: The Commission recently heard an appeal of an RTI applicant who sought information related to salary provided to one person and the handicapped certificate submitted by him. The CPIO denied providing information on these particular points giving a reply after 57 days.

Commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu citing Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act, held that the salary related information of employees in the Department has to be suo motu disclosed. Commission further observed that denying any such information as third party information is illegal and accordingly directed the respondent to provide complete information to the appellant, within next fifteen days. [T. P. Yadav v. PIO, Department of Posts, CIC/POSTS/A/2017/149132, decided on 24.11.2017]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: The appeallant before the CIC had appealed against the CPIO, OPTO Electronics Factory, Dehradun seeking information relating to the qualifications for the post of supervisor and whether those qualifications were fulfilled by one Shri Amit Mandal and Shri Manas Kumar Hazra who were promoted to the post of Supervisor recently.

The plea of appellant was that he was incorrectly denied of the information that he sought to which the respondent submitted that appellant was doing nothing, but was seeking redressal for his grievances through the RTI application.

The Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava thoroughly studied the background of the appeal and came to the conclusion that there were no grounds to interfere with the order and held that RTI is not the forum to seek redressal to personal grievances. [Bhishm Singh v. CPIO, OPTO Electronics Factory, CIC/OFBKO/A/2016/295329 decided on 30.08.2017]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: While hearing upon the present matter wherein the issue was related to few people perpetuating fraud by way of producing false receipts with official stamps, thereby resulting into serious losses being accrued by the parties, the Central Information Commissioner, M. Sridhar Acharyulu, held that the concerned public authority (the Post Office) has failed miserably to initiate any inquiry or action against its staff members who generated such fraudulent receipts. The Commissioner further berated the public authority for their failure to take any action by stating that such callousness would seriously affect the rights of parties and will create hurdles in adjudication. Therefore the Commission directed respondent to provide details of the date on which documents were removed and also directed the SSPO/CPIO to show why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon them for not giving a proper reply to the appellant’s RTI and for not attending the second appeal.

As per the facts of the matter, the appellant filed a RTI seeking to know whether he was sent a legal notice via registered post regarding sale of his property and provide any record in respect of issuance of said registered post. The appellant contended that he never intended to sell his property, however a lawyer created a false record of sale, and even though no notice was received by him, but a proof of service was created which resulted in ex parte proceeding against him, depriving him of his property. It was further stated that receipt in question issued by the post office did not bear any signature and because of such forged service proofs, people like him are losing their valuable properties in court litigation as, on the basis of this receipt the opposite party claimed it to be a legal notice. On filing RTI with the Post Office, the concerned authority informed the appellant that record of registered article has been weeded out due to lapse of time period as per departmental rule, hence, the information cannot be provided

The Commission agreeing with the issues raised by the appellant questioned the District Court Post Office as to how they can issue a receipt without any signature. Therefore the appellant was right in seeking an explanation and details of action against this kind of issuance of receipts. The Commission also observed that this small level fraud is widespread all over the country causing serious loss to the parties discrediting the system of law and adjudication only because of inaction of the administrators of Post Office against falsification of service proof. The Commission noted that the miserable tactics of dealing with the issue was also revealed in the authority’s reply to the RTI filed by the appellant. It was held that certain unscrupulous elements in the Post Office have effectuated this fraud of producing wrongful receipts with official stamps and the public authority has easily escaped from its duty of accountability as there was no signature or name of the person who prepared that receipt. [Ashok Kumar v. PIO, District Court Post Office, 2017 SCC OnLine CIC 735, decided on 18.05.2017]

 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench comprising of T.S. Thakur CJI and FM Ibrahim Kalifulla J. accepts Justice RM Lodha panel’s recommendations almost in toto on structural reforms in the BCCI in order to streamline the working of the BCCI and possibly prevent any aberrations or controversies in which it has been embroiled in the past.

One of the most important recommendations that is accepted is the recommendation which disqualifies Ministers and Public Servants from holding offices in the State Associations or BCCI. The Court was of the opinion that the game of Cricket does not flourishes in this country because any minister or civil servant holds office in the State Associations or BCCI. Rejecting the contention that favours which the BCCI receives will disappear just because a Minister or Civil Servant is not an office bearer in the State Association or BCCI, the Court said that what is legitimately due to the game will not be denied to the game merely because Ministers or Civil Servants do not happen to be office bearers as there may be an overwhelming number of Ministers and Bureaucrats who are passionate abMinisters and Puout the game and would like to do everything that is legally permissible and reasonably possible within the four corners of the law even without holding any office in the BCCI or the State Associations.

Regarding bringing BCCI under the purview of RTI, the Court said that since BCCI discharges public functions and since those functions are in the nature of a monopoly in the hands of the BCCI with tacit State Government and Central Government approvals, the public at large has a right to know and demand information as to the activities and functions of the BCCI especially when it deals with funds collected in relation to those activities as a trustee of wherein the beneficiary happens to be the people of this country and hence, the Law Commission of India should examine the issue and make a suitable recommendation to the Government.

It was further said that the recommendation made by the Committee that betting should be legalized by law, involves the enactment of a Law which is a matter that may be examined by the Law Commission and the Government for such action as it may consider necessary in the facts and circumstances of the case. [Board Control for Cricket v. Cricket Association of Bihar, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 709, decided on 18.07.2016]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: While dismissing a writ petition that challenged a Central Information Commission order, a single-judge bench of Manmohan, J., held that the High Court is not an appellate Court of the CIC and thus technical and procedural arguments cannot be allowed to come in the way of substantial justice.

In the instant case, the petitioner have challenged an order whereby CIC, on an RTI application by an NLSIU student, has directed the petitioner to upload all the latest amended bare Acts and to examine the functionality of its e-mail ID and develop an appropriate RTI filing mechanism. It was contented by the petitioner that the respondent has never filed an RTI application in the prescribed form. Moreover, the respondent had not filed the first appeal and hence the second appeal could not have been entertained by the CIC. The Court observed that the order has been challenged on mere technical and procedural grounds and the directions given by the CIC are not only fair and reasonable but also promote the concept of rule of law.

The Court further noted that public can be expected to follow the law only if law is easily accessible and Section 4(1) of the RTI Act itself mandates the Government to place the bare acts in public domain. The CIC has also directed the petitioner to pay Rs.10,000/- under Section 19(8)(b) of the RTI Act to the library of NLSIU. The Court took notice of the fact that in challenging the imposition of costs of Rs.10,000/-, the petitioner would have spent more money in filing the present writ petition. Consequently, the costs of Rs.10,000/- was directed to be recovered from the salary of the Government officials who authorized the filing of the writ petition. [Union of India v. Vansh Sharad Gupta, 2016 SCC OnLine Del 3383, Decided on 24.05.2016]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): CIC has held that Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd., which is a joint venture company constituted with participation of GAIL India Ltd. and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (HPCL), two public sector undertakings, is not a public authority under the RTI Act. The Commission came upon the said finding while hearing an appeal filed by a person who sought a copy of the Hook-Up Agreement with Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Ltd. (RGTIL) entered into in 2010 by Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. Earlier, Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. had denied the said information stating that BGL was not a public authority under the RTI Act and was not covered under the Act. In appeal, it was stated that Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. have substantial shareholding of 99% approximately of GAIL India Ltd. and HPCL and is headed and controlled by Directors provided by the above public sector undertakings, therefore, Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. is a body substantially controlled and financed by Government. The Appellant also challenged the involvement of commercial confidence in this matter and stated that the Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. got into an agreement with Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Ltd., involving public money and, therefore, the public has right to get information concerning the agreement. In its defence, Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. stated that the information sought by the appellant concerns an agreement involving commercial confidence, which cannot be revealed to third parties. It referred to S. 2 (45) of the Companies Act, 2013 as per which a Government company means any company in which not less than 51% of the paid-up share capital was held by the Central Government or by any State Government or Governments and added that Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. does not fall in this category. It was further stated that in the Board of Directors of Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd., there were two directors each from GAIL India Ltd. and HPCL and, at the moment, one independent director; though as per the Companies Act, there should be two independent directors. After hearing the parties, CIC observed that, “From the information obtained from the websites of GAIL India Ltd. and HPCL, it is seen that the shareholding of Government of India in these entities is 56.11% and 51.11% respectively. The remaining shareholding is of financial institutions, banks, mutual funds, employees and others. Further, these entities also generate income from their commercial activities. Therefore, shareholding of approximately 98% by these organizations in Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. does not qualify as substantial financing by the appropriate Government within the scope of Section 2 (h) (d) (i) of the RTI Act.” CIC further observed that even though four of the five directors of Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. were from GAIL India Ltd. and HPCL, because of what is stated above regarding the shareholding of GAIL India Ltd. and HPCL, their presence on the Board of Directors cannot be regarded as substantial control by the appropriate Government. “In view of the foregoing, we decide that Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd. is not a public authority under the RTI Act,” Commission noted and disposed of the appeal. [K. C. Unnikrishnan v. Bhagyanagar Gas Ltd., 2016 SCC OnLine CIC 4847, decided on April 26, 2016]