Case BriefsHigh Courts

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

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

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

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

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

Case BriefsSupreme Court

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

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

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

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

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

Strength of Information Commissioners in SICs:

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

General Directions:

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

The Court concluded by saying that:

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

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

Case BriefsHigh Courts

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

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

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

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

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

Hot Off The PressNews

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

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

Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

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

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

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

(a)-(i) …                                     *                                            *                                       *

(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information:”

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

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

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

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

Case BriefsHigh Courts

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

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

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

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

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

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

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

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

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

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: While addressing the appeal upon the applicant filed to seek details of bills, invoices as received in the Ministry of External Affairs with reference to foreign visits undertaken by former and present Prime Minister of India for Financial Years 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17, the Chief Information Commissioner, Radha Krishna Mathur, directed the CPIO for the Ministry of External Affairs, to provide the details of the travel bills relating to Air India from Financial Years 2013-14 to 2016-17 to the appellant, within 30 days from the date of receipt of this order.

The applicant had filed the RTI to seek information related to the expenditures incurred in the foreign visits undertaken by the former and the present PM. It was put forth by the applicant that that he wants the general public to be informed that at what stage or with which public authority these bills/invoices are pending for payment. He further stated that unpaid bills/invoices raised by Air India are likely to raise its debt liabilities. He added that Air India is a cash-strapped airline and that the elements of financial propriety, probity and accountability are involved in making payment of these pending bills. He stated that expeditious recovery of Air India’s dues from various public authorities is the need of the hour considering tremendous financial stress of Air India. It was further added that the information could lead to improvement in finances of an enterprise of the Government; therefore this information should not be pushed aside in the name of national security.

The respondent however argued that details of amount, reference numbers, and dates of bills raised by Indian Air Force and Air India for the foreign visits undertaken by the Prime Minister is scattered across various records and files and collation of information in the manner sought by the appellant would involve searching of voluminous records by a significant number of officials which would divert the resources of the public authority from the efficient discharge of its normal functions.

Disagreeing with the contentions provided by the respondent, the CIC observed that eventually, while paying the outstanding dues to the Air India, the Ministry will have to compile the bills and invoices; therefore it is only feasible for the Ministry to provide the details to the appellant. [Commodore Lokesh K. Batra v. Central Public Information Officer, 2018 SCC OnLine CIC 20, decided on 21.02.2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Single Judge Bench of the Delhi High Court comprising of Vibhu Bakhru, J., allowed a petition before it, setting aside the impugned order by which, the petitioner’s contention against CBI being within the purview of Section 24 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and therefore, not obliged to disclose information sought by Respondent 2.

Briefly, the facts leading up to the impugned order was that Respondent 2, who is an officer with the CBI was facing departmental proceedings and the offences alleged against him were grave and sensitive in nature. Respondent 2 filed an application under the RTI Act seeking certain information related to the disciplinary proceedings. The petitioner declined to disclose the information sought stating that the CBI was listed under the Second Schedule to the Act and thus was outside the purview of the Act. Respondent 2 then filed an appeal which was rejected, followed by a second appeal, which was also rejected. An application seeking information under the Act was filed again, which was not entertained based on the same grounds as before. Respondent 2 then preferred appeals, the first of which was rejected, however, the second was allowed. The present petition impugns the order of the aforesaid appeal.

The Court analyzed the impugned order, finding out that the CIC was of the view that the exclusionary clause of Section 24(1) of the Act was not available in respect of information sought by it’s own officials regarding their service matters. Upon analyzing Section 24(1) of the Act and the proviso thereunder that all information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations do not fall within the exclusionary clause. The Court, however, held the present situation could not, by a long stretch, be considered to be a ‘human rights violation’. CIC held to be in error. Petition allowed.[Central Bureau of Investigation v. Central Information Commission, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 7003, decided on 02.02.2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: The Commission recently dealt with an appeal wherein the appellant contended that the information he seeked through 6 points regarding implementation of second MACP scheme in All India Radio by the 6th Central Pay Commission, had not been provided to him by the CPIO.

The complainant had not appeared before the Commission to plead his case in the present appeals case. The Commission decided that there was no scope for its intervention in the present case. It held so because despite the CPIO having grossly erred in not providing a reply on certain paragraphs of the RTI application, the FAA had done so instead in its own reply. Besides, the Commission also noted that the information that was being sought by the complainant was rather and in an extremely unspecified manner, which would in turn require immense deduction and collation of information while disproportionately diverting the resources made available to the public authority. The Commission also warned that further such applications be replied with due care. [Paban Sharma v. CPIO, File No. CIC/DGAAR/A/2017/131451/SD, order dated 18.1.2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

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

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

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

 

Case 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]