Case BriefsSupreme Court (Constitution Benches)

Supreme Court: In yet another historic verdict, the 5-judge constitution Bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and NV Ramana, Dr. DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes under the purview of the Right to Information. In the 250-pages long judgment, Justice Sanjiv Khanna wrote the mjority opinion for the Bench and Justices NV Ramana and DY Chandrachud gave separate but concurring opinion.

Majority Verdict penned by Sanjiv Khanna, J

“Judicial independence and accountability go hand in hand as accountability ensures, and is a facet of judicial independence.”

Section 8(1)(j) vis-à-vis Section 11 of the RTI Act

Section 8(1)(j) specifically refers to invasion of the right to privacy of an individual and excludes from disclosure information that would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of such individual, unless the disclosure would satisfy the larger public interest test. This clause also draws a distinction in its treatment of personal information, whereby disclosure of such information is exempted if such information has no relation to public activity or interest.

On the relative scope of both the provisions, the Court said,

“the scope of ‘information’ under Section 11 is much broader than that of clause (j) to Section 8 (1), as it could include information that is personal as well as information that concerns the government and its working, among others, which relates to or is supplied by a third party and treated as confidential. Third-party could include any individual, natural or juristic entity including the public authority.”

Public Interest Test

The Court said that the public interest test in the context of the RTI Act would mean reflecting upon the object and purpose behind the right to information, the right to privacy and consequences of invasion, and breach of confidentiality and possible harm and injury that would be caused to the third party, with reference to a particular information and the person.

Some of the important aspects highlighted by the Court are as follows:

    • Public interest has no relationship and is not connected with the number of individuals adversely affected by the disclosure which may be small and insignificant in comparison to the substantial number of individuals wanting disclosure.
    • Public interest is not immutable and even time-gap may make a significant difference
    • The type and likelihood of harm to the public interest behind the exemption and public interest in disclosure would matter. The delicate balance requires identification of public interest behind each exemption and then cumulatively weighing the public interest in accepting or maintaining the exemption(s) to deny information in a particular case against the public interest in disclosure in that particular case.
    • ‘Motive’ and ‘purpose’ for making the request for information is irrelevant and being extraneous cannot be a ground for refusing the information. However, this is not to state that ‘motive’ and ‘purpose’ may not be relevant factor while applying the public interest test in case of qualified exemptions governed by the public interest test.

Judicial Independence

The independence of judiciary is not limited to judicial appointments to the Supreme Court and the High Courts, as it is a much wider concept which takes within its sweep independence from many other pressures and prejudices. It consists of many dimensions including fearlessness from other power centres, social, economic and political, freedom from prejudices acquired and nurtured by the class to which the judges belong and the like.

The Court said that it cannot be doubted and debated that the independence of the judiciary is a matter of ennobled public concern and directly relates to public welfare and would be one of the factors to be taken into account in weighing and applying the public interest test. Thus, when the public interest demands the disclosure of information, judicial independence has to be kept in mind while deciding the question of exercise of discretion. It, however, said,

“we should not be understood to mean that the independence of the judiciary can be achieved only by denial of access to information. Independence in a given case may well demand openness and transparency by furnishing the information.”

The Court concluded by saying that in each case, the public interest test would be applied to weigh the scales and on balance determine whether information should be furnished or would be exempt. Therefore, a universal affirmative or negative answer is not possible. However, independence of judiciary is a matter of public interest.

Delhi High Court’s Judgment

The Court upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict where it had directed the CPIO, Supreme Court of India to furnish information on the judges of the Supreme Court who had declared their assets. The Court said that such disclosure would not, in any way, impinge upon the personal information and right to privacy of the judges.

NV Ramana, J’s separate but concurring opinion

“Right to information should not be allowed to be used as a tool of surveillance to scuttle effective functioning of judiciary.”

Stating that transparency cannot be allowed to run to its absolute, considering the fact that efficiency is equally important principle to be taken into fold, Justice Ramana talked about a 2-step process to ascertain whether the information should be disclosed. He laid down non-exhaustive lists of considerations that need to be considered while assessing both the steps

First Step: Whether information is private or not

  • The nature of information.
  • Impact on private life.
  • Improper conduct.
  • Criminality
  • Place where the activity occurred or the information was found.
  • Attributes of claimants such as being a public figure, a minor etc and their reputation.
  • Absence of consent.
  • Circumstances and purposes for which the information came into the hands of the publishers.
  • Effect on the claimant.
  • Intrusion’s nature and purpose

Second step: Whether the public interest justifies discloser of such information under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act

  • Nature and content of the information
  • Consequences of non-disclosure; dangers and benefits to public
  • Type of confidential obligation.
  • Beliefs of the confidant; reasonable suspicion
  • Party to whom information is disclosed
  • Manner in which information acquired
  • Public and private interests
  • Freedom of expression and proportionality.

Chandrachud, J’s separate but concurring opinion

“To use judicial independence as a plea to refuse accountability is fallacious. Independence is secured by accountability. Transparency and scrutiny are instruments to secure accountability.”

Though Chandrachud, J noticed that to be independent a judge must have the ability to decide ‘without fear or favour, affection or ill will’ and that the Constitution creates conditions to secure the independence of judges by setting out provisions to govern appointments, tenure and conditions of service, he, however, said

“But constitutional design must be realised through the actual working of its functionaries. Mechanisms which facilitate independence are hence a crucial link in ensuring that constitutional design translates into the realisation of judicial independence. Facilitative mechanisms include those which promote transparency. For true judicial independence is not a shield to protect wrong doing but an instrument to secure the fulfilment of those constitutional values which an independent judiciary is tasked to achieve.”

He further said that the judiciary, like other institutions envisaged by the Constitution, is essentially a human institution. The independence of the judiciary was not envisaged to mean its insulation from the checks and balances that are inherent in the exercise of constitution power.

[Central Public Information Officer v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1459, decided on 13.11.2019]

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: In the bid to gather information from intermediaries regarding the names of the originators of any message/content/information shared on the platforms run by these intermediaries, the Court has asked the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology to file an affidavit within three weeks placing on record the stage at which the process of framing/notifying the rules is at. The Court also asked the Secretary to give definite timelines in respect of completing the process of notifying the rules.

The bench of Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha passed the order in the light of the fact that there are various messages and content spread/shared on the social media, some of which are harmful.

“Some messages can incite violence. There may be messages which are against the sovereignty and integrity of the country. Social media has today become the source of large amount of pornography. Paedophiles use social media in a big way. Drugs, weapons and other contrabands can be sold through the use of platforms run by the intermediaries.”

The bench, hence, noticed that in such circumstances, it is imperative that there is a properly framed regime to find out the persons/institutions/bodies who are the originators of such content/messages. It may be necessary to get such information from the intermediaries.

Some intermediaries, however, submitted that they cannot provide information either with regard to the content or with regard to the originators because they have end to end encryption and therefore, even the intermediaries are not in a position to find out who is the originator or what is the content.

On the said issue, the Court noticed that

“de-encryption, if available easily, could defeat the fundamental right of privacy and de-encryption of messages may be done under special circumstances but it must be ensured that the privacy of an individual is not invaded. However, at the same time, the sovereignty of the State and the dignity and reputation of an individual are required to be protected.”

It, hence, said that for purposes of detection, prevention and investigation of certain criminal activities it may be necessary to obtain such information. De-encryption and revelation of the identity of the originator may also be necessary in certain other cases, some of which have been highlighted hereinabove.

After Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told that the Court that  the matter is under active consideration of the Union of India and that the draft rules in this regard have already been framed and are only required to be notified, the Court asked Solicitor General to take complete instructions in the matter.

[Facebook Inc. v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1264, order dated 24.09.2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: After hearing Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Supreme Court and advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, the 5-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ reserved the verdict in the matter where an RTI Activist had sought disclosure of information on appointment of judges, thereby bringing collegium under RTI.

For the past decade, the Supreme Court has refused to divulge information under RTI about the collegium’s confidential communications with the government. The collegium recommends judges for the High Courts and the apex court. The Supreme Court, after losing legal battles before the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the Delhi High Court, finally had to appeal to itself to protect the collegium’s workings.

AG’s submission

AG represented the Supreme Court’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), who is the authority tasked to respond to RTI queries related to the court. He argued before the Court that opening up the “highly-sensitive” correspondence of the Supreme Court’s collegium and its workings to the Right to Information(RTI) regime would make judges and the government “shy” and “destroy” judicial independence. He also asserted that if the RTI will be applied to the collegium, its member judges would not be able to sit back and have a free and frank discussion for fear that their confidential views may later come into the public domain.

He said,

“If reasons for his rejection come into public domain, will a judge be able to function independently? The entire future of the judge is ruined. The public, litigants lose their confidence in him. A judge whose integrity has been questioned and overlooked for appointment or elevation, is handicapped. He cannot go to the press to clear the air. Disclosure of highly sensitive communication under RTI will risk the very existence of the judicial way of functioning. So, the information should be kept confidential.”

Acknowledging that the right to know was part of the right to free speech, AG said the right to free speech was, however, subject to reasonable restrictions.

On the question of disclosure of personal assets of judges, AG argued even  under RTI was an “unwarranted intrusion” into their privacy.

Prashant Bhushan’s Submissions

Arguing on behalf of RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, advocate Prashant Bhushan said that the Court has always been on forefront of right to information and transparency. He said that even in SP Gupta judgment, the 7-judge bench said that non disclosure of information would cause greater harm to public interest. He further argued that even in the absence of RTI Act, the Court has held that candidates contesting elections should disclose their criminal antecedents.

He said,

“You have asked centre to follow transparency in appointment in other wings of the Government. You can’t claim exemption from disclosure of information relating to appointment of judges.”

He also said that people are entitled to know about appointment of judges in a democracy. He told the Court,

“you have given judgments on transparency but deny information when it comes to you.”

He also said,

“An honest officer making a decision will not be cowed down by the fear that his reasoning or decision will become public tomorrow.”

When the bench said that a person may not want the information relating to his sexual orientation to be disclosed or the fact that he/she is suffering from schizophrenia, Bhushan agreed and said that Section 10 of RTI Act that provides exemption will be applicable in such cases.

On the issue of disclosure of assets of the judges, Bhushan said that  the RTI applicant is merely which judges submitted there asset details to CJI. 

(With inputs from The Hindu)

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): The appellant conducted blood group determination test 8 times in both government and privately-owned hospitals, situated in Agra as well as Delhi. Some tests returned his result as blood group ‘B-positive’ while others as ‘B-negative’. The appellant was perplexed and approached the Medical Council of India (“MCI”) under Right to Information Act (“Act”) to ascertain conclusively his blood group, specifically whether he was Rh-positive or Rh-negative.

The Public Information Officer (“PIO”) of the MCI responded saying that the information sought did not qualify as ‘information’ defined under Section 2(f) of the Act, which reads:

“information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force”

This argument by the respondent-MCI was accepted by the First Appellate Authority (“FAA”) who deemed the PIO’s reply appropriate.

The appellant approached the Central Information Commission (“CIC”) praying for relief, citing the reason that the matter pertained to his health and knowledge of his blood group is essential in case of an emergency where blood transfusion might be required. He, therefore, claimed a right to be informed of his correct blood group.

The MCI maintained that apart from the fact that the solicited information did not fall under the purview of the Act, but the respondent MCI neither possessed such information nor had any jurisdiction or power to obtain such information. The MCI also suggested that the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (“AIIMS”) may be approached to carry out suitable research on the same and put to rest the appellant’s queries.

The CIC held that the clarifications sought by the appellant can be construed as information as different pathology laboratories have provided opposite results and the appellant only wished to obtain concrete and reliable information in case of medical emergency, which is also a part of his Righto Life under the Constitution.

The CIC also observed that as a responsible and sensitive PIO, the respondent ought to have forwarded the appellant’s query to the AIIMS under Section 6(3) of the Act. Hence the respondent was directed to send the documents furnished by the appellant to the AIIMS, which was, in turn, requested to carry out necessary tests and provide the requested information. The appeal was accordingly disposed of. [Soni S Eramat v. Medical Council of India, File No. CIC/MEDCI/A/2017/120881, decided on 10.05.2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): While reiterating that third party’s personal information held by the bank in fiduciary capacity involving commercial confidence is exempt from disclosure under Section 8(1)(d), (e) and (j) of the RTI Act, CIC disposed of an appeal seeking information from the State Bank of India (Mumbai) regarding the basis of giving huge loans to Gautam Adani Group along with the evidence that the loan was connected to the coal mines of Australia.

It was alleged by the appellant that the Group has taken loans worth about Rs. 77,000 crores from various banks and the Group’s financial position was not sound, therefore, he wanted the information. Earlier, appellant approached CPIO and the first appellate authority (FAA) of the Bank but was informed that the information being sought was commercial information and held by them in trust for the third party, therefore, it could not be provided. The contention of the appellant that larger public interest was involved in the matter as it was his duty to enquire into the documents submitted by the Group, was rejected by the Commission on the ground that appellant had not even mentioned any larger public interest in the matter let alone substantiate in his RTI application. “The Commission finds that the appellant had sought third party’s personal information held by the bank in fiduciary capacity involving commercial confidence. The Commission, therefore, holds that the information sought is exempt under Section 8(1)(d), (e) and (j) of the RTI Act,” noted the Commission while disposing of the appeal. [Ramesh Ranchordas Joshi v. State Bank of India, 2016 SCC OnLine CIC 15858, decided on October 4, 2016]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): CIC has directed Chief Minister Office, Delhi to provide all relevant documents before the Chief Minister to facilitate him to consider a uniform policy of providing compensation to families of government employees including doctors killed on duty. Said directions of CIC came upon an appeal filed by the mother of a doctor who met an untimely death due to exposure to swine flu during his service. She sought information about compensation for death of her son. Earlier on March 3, 2015, the son of appellant who was a Senior Resident (Anaesthesia) at Chacha Nehru Bala Chikitsalaya, died because of exposure to swine-flu while on duty. The appellant was earlier denied information in the matter by Health & Family Welfare Department as well as by the Chief Minister Office. The Commission noted that Delhi State Government has enhanced compensation to Rs 1 crore for officers in uniform if killed on duty but it is not clear whether the policy of the Delhi State covers a doctor’s family to get compensation for his death due to decease. “Like a police officer a doctor is also risking life by exposure to deadly deceases, which is no less than facing bullets. For any family, loss of doctor son will be an irreparable damage. Either police or doctor, both serve and sacrifice for state and thus need to be treated equally. No policy can discriminate life of a doctor from that of soldier for purposes of compensation,” the Commission further noted. After perusing the documents and hearing both the parties, Commission observed, “Deadly decease like swine flu is as worse as a killing assailant. If there is no such security measure, it is difficult to give moral strength to young doctors to treat suffering citizens. The state has a duty to form uniform policy and inform the people about it to provide compensation to the family for unforeseen death of employee during service.” While observing that, “In this case the young doctor’s family has right to know whether they are entitled to compensation, if so, why not one crore rupees as given to officer killed on duty? State has to explain reasons for not treating a doctor on par with police,” CIC directed Chief Minister Office to provide the information sought by the appellant and in case her application is rejected, the reasons for rejection. CIC also directed Chief Minister Office to help the Chief Minister of Delhi to consider forming a uniform policy of providing compensation to families of government employees. [Anita Singh v. Health & Family Welfare Department, GNCTD, 2016 SCC OnLine CIC 7169, decided on May 31, 2016]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): While declaring an RTI applicant as misuser of social media and RTI, CIC warned him to stop misusing the law to harass his colleagues in a Delhi college. The Commission was hearing an appeal filed by an employee of Ambedkar Polytechnic, who filed RTI application seeking wide range of information about his colleagues and Principal and even of the officers who were supposed to inquire into complaints filed against him. He sought copies of integrity certificate of committee members those were involved in the inquiry. Appellant had already filed number of complaints, grievance representations, RTI applications, almost chocking entire administration. He also videographed the lecture of one of his lady colleagues in the class room without permission and put it on social media with reckless allegations. She complained against him before Delhi Commission for Women, which was dismissed on the ground that the Principal should have given a memo. She was upset with invasion of her privacy and reputation by wide circulation of abusive comments with video giving an impression there was some scandal. After perusal of documents and hearing the parties, CIC observed that the appellant is, “a misuser of every mechanism” and “every misuse of system like, PGMS, RTI and Social media shall be considered as an item of misconduct that invite disciplinary action.” “The head of the institute need to examine if it (actions of appellant) amounts to any offence under IPC or IT Act, and shall report to appropriate authorities including police,” CIC noted. The Commission also observed that the women colleagues were also entitled to get compensation for invasion of their privacy. The Commission further recommended the Delhi Commission for Women, to take necessary action on complaints of the lady colleague and report the compliance to the Commission. [Mohd. Shakeel Saifi v. Bhai Parmanand Institute of Business Studies, 2016 SCC OnLine CIC 3673, decided on March 3, 2016]

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): “The RTI is not a rendezvous for suspended employees or those erring personnel facing inquiries to serve their personal interests in protecting their misconduct or preventing the authorities from proceeding with penal proceedings enquiring into misconduct,” observed CIC while rejecting an appeal filed by a TGT teacher who sought information in respect to a charge-sheet issued to him. The appellant was charge-sheeted by State Council of Educational Research & Training (SCERT), for financial irregularities in organizing a workshop and defaulting in arranging resource person and making payment to them. He sought information regarding the charge-sheet and enquiry conducted in the matter from SCERT. As the appellant was not satisfied with the information provided, he approached the Commission. It was alleged by the appellant that due to the non-availability of information, investigation in the matter is pending. The appellant also laid charges of harassment upon other officials. After perusing the documents and hearing both the parties, CIC observed, “Here in this case, the appellant is unleashing his private vengeance against colleagues or seniors who are either inquiring or informing or complaining or giving evidence against him. Thus such information sought under RTI would squarely fall under exempted category under Section 8(1)(h) (‘information which would impede process of investigation or prosecution of offenders’) of RTI Act, 2005 as this would not only impede the investigation or inquiry against him, but also impede the inquiries against all such erring employees who will be encouraged or tempted to use RTI for such private, illegal and vengeful purpose.” CIC further observed that RTI is not for the disgruntled employees facing disciplinary proceedings or selfish persons seeking private vengeance but for the people in general, only in public interest, and never for the private vengeance at all. While considering the matter as another case of misuse of RTI Act by the charge-sheeted employee, by instituting a parallel or counter interrogatory questionnaire through multiple questions under RTI Act, CIC rejected the appeal and directed the appellant to face the inquiry with all material he has and cooperate with the inquiry officer to complete the process in reasonable time. (Ram Kishan v. State Council of Educational Research & Training, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 4871, decided on 19-8-2015)

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): While observing that relationship between a person and counselor is fiduciary and personal in nature, CIC held that information regarding negotiation, mediation, conciliation and counseling between estranged couples and counselor falls under exempted clause of information of other spouse. “If RTI is allowed to be exercised in securing information about mediation, cantankerous spouse will exploit mediation as a source to get information with which they can harass the other spouse and use it in courts of law also,” noted the Commission. The order of Commission came upon an appeal filed by a woman who sought to know details of her conciliation proceedings before the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA). It was alleged by the woman that due to marital problems, she was referred for counseling under DSLSA and details of her conciliation proceedings before the DSLSA were most required in her domestic violence and divorce cases pending at Patiala House Courts. Earlier, she was denied the information by DSLSA on the ground that according to Rule 20 of Mediation & Conciliation Rules, 2004 proceedings of mediation and conciliation cannot be obtained and cannot be used for any purpose other than achieving conciliation. After perusing the relevant material on record, CIC observed that the proceeding related to the appellant before the DSLSA was not a divorce proceeding, but a counseling and conciliation proceeding, confidentiality of which need to be protected as per the law and in public interest. CIC further observed, “Information regarding negotiation, mediation, conciliation and counseling will fall under exempted clause of information of other spouse, being personal and given in fiduciary capacity and, no public interest is established in disclosure, while there is larger public interest in protecting that information as that would help mediation to flourish, hence such information shall not be disclosed.” (Rama Aggarwal v. Delhi State Legal Services Authority, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 4872, decided on 13-8-2015)

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC) : While rejecting the contention of Indian Potash Ltd. (IPL) that it does not fall within the purview of RTI Act as it was established under the Companies Act, 1956, CIC held that IPL is “public authority” under Section 2 (h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and hence, answerable to the citizens of India under the Act. The order of the Commission came upon an appeal filed by an RTI activist who sought information under the Act from IPL about the landed cost of Muriate of Potash (a common form of potash) imported by IPL during the period between April, 2009 to October, 2010. IPL denied disclosure of the said information on the ground that it having been incorporated under the Companies Act, 1956 was not a “public authority” as defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. Before Commission, appellant submitted that website of IPL reveals that it is controlled by the Government of India. IPL was established in the name of Indian Potash Supplying Agency (IPSA) by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. IPSA was converted into Indian Potash Ltd. and its members included Co-operative Sector and Public Sector Companies. It was further stated that as IPL has to appoint Managing Director with the concurrence of Government of India as stated in regulations of IPL Articles of Associations, it is clear that IPL is controlled by the Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers. Hence, IPL is a “public authority” as defined under Section 2(h) of RTI Act 2005. After perusal of material on record, CIC observed that IPL gives credit to the Government of India for structuring its share capital pattern and no Govt. official can hold the post of Chairperson or other Board member of a company as controlling affairs of the company unless the company is a Government company. Thus, it is apparent that the Govt. exercises its control over IPL through its officials, appointed as Board of Directors. CIC further noted that IPL is substantially financed indirectly by the appropriate Government. Commission also observed that IPL enjoys a monopoly status which is State conferred and was delivering a function for the benefit of farmers which is of public importance and closely related to Govt. function, hence, comes within the purview of “public authority” under Section 2 (h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. CIC further directed IPL to designate public information officers (PIO) to answer the RTI queries and to post mandatory required information on its website. A. Ramanathan v. Indian Potash Ltd., 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 2910, decided on 09.07.2015

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): “The voter has a right to know, first that his name was deleted (from the voters’ list), then the reasons for decision to delete his name from the voters’ list,” observed CIC while directing Chief Election Officer (CEO) to pay a compensation of Rs 10,000 to a voter who was prevented from casting his vote, as his name was deleted from the voters’ list without informing him..The order of the Commission came upon an appeal filed by a person who sought information regarding exclusion of his name in the voters’ list. He wanted to know the procedure by which the name can be excluded and also that whether a person can be excluded from the voters’ list even when he has resided in the same address previously when he voted. As no information was provided to him by the Chief Election Officer, he approached the Commission. After perusing various provisions of Constitution of India and Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, Commission observed that CEO is entrusted with duty to prepare and publish a list of deletions proposed, notice about inquiry and to give reasonable opportunity to defend, before ordering deletion. While commenting upon the arbitrary action of CEO in the matter, CIC noted, “Such an arbitrary deletion and denial of information even after deletion, followed by non-response to RTI request for reasons for that deletion would certainly amount to denial of a very significant Constitutional & statutory right to vote and right to information under RTI Act.” The Commission directed CPIO of the Public Authory (Chief Election Officer) to show cause why penalty should not be imposed for not furnishing the information to the appellant about deletion of his name from the voter list and reasons for the deletion thereto; and not informing the appellant if any inquiry was conducted into the matter after such deletion; about the action proposed to be taken against officer responsible for deleting his name and when his name and right to vote will be restored. Apart from awarding compensation to the appellant, CIC also directed CPIO of Chief Election Officer to prepare a set of guidelines that needs to be followed before deleting names from the voters’ list and inform the affected voters of the proposed deletion giving opportunity to present their case. (Sumit v. Chief Election Officer, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 2909, decided on 29.07.2015)

 

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): While rejecting the contention of Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC) that it does not fall within the purview of RTI Act as it is a ‘Society’ registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, CIC held that CIDC is “public authority” under Section 2 (h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and hence, answerable to the citizens of India under the Act. The order of the Commission came upon a complaint filed by an RTI activist who sought information under the Act from CIDC about file-notings/correspondence/documents, etc., regarding establishing of CIDC by Planning Commission. Before Commission, CIDC submitted that it is a ‘Society’ registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 formed by various constituents of construction industry primarily comprising construction companies and industry associations as per the order of the Planning Commission. It was further started that it started functioning with a corpus of Rs.3 crores contributed by member construction companies and it is not substantially financed by the Government. It was also submitted that CIDC is now self-sufficient and independent of any government funding and hence cannot be termed as “public authority” under the Act. After perusal of the material on record and hearing both the parties, CIC observed that CIDC owes its origin to the office order of the Planning Commission of the Government of India thereby fulfilling the condition of the Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act. Commission further observed that without the financial aid of the Planning Commission, the CIDC was a loss incurring entity, struggling to exist and but for the financial aid received from the Government of India and its sources, it could not have sustained. Also, the Planning Commission continues to be a permanent member of the CIDC, with total exemptions regarding entrance and/or annual subscriptions. While concluding the discussion, Commission noted that, “the role of the Government is evidently deep and pervasive in the respondent organization (CIDC) right from its inception to funding, control and operations. Thus, we are of the considered opinion that the CIDC is substantially financed by the Central Government and is a fit organisation to be defined as ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.” Subhash Chandra Agrawal v. S.N. Murthy, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 2126, decided on 25.06.2015

 

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): While rejecting the contention of Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC) that it does not fall within the purview of RTI Act as it is a ‘Society’ registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, CIC held that CIDC is “public authority” under Section 2 (h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and hence, answerable to the citizens of India under the Act. The order of the Commission came upon a complaint filed by an RTI activist who sought information under the Act from CIDC about file-notings/correspondence/documents, etc., regarding establishing of CIDC by Planning Commission. Before Commission, CIDC submitted that it is a ‘Society’ registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 formed by various constituents of construction industry primarily comprising construction companies and industry associations as per the order of the Planning Commission. It was further started that it started functioning with a corpus of Rs.3 crores contributed by member construction companies and it is not substantially financed by the Government. It was also submitted that CIDC is now self-sufficient and independent of any government funding and hence cannot be termed as “public authority” under the Act. After perusal of the material on record and hearing both the parties, CIC observed that CIDC owes its origin to the office order of the Planning Commission of the Government of India thereby fulfilling the condition of the Section 2 (h)(d) of the RTI Act. Commission further observed that without the financial aid of the Planning Commission, the CIDC was a loss incurring entity, struggling to exist and but for the financial aid received from the Government of India and its sources, it could not have sustained. Also, the Planning Commission continues to be a permanent member of the CIDC, with total exemptions regarding entrance and/or annual subscriptions. While concluding the discussion, Commission noted that, “the role of the Government is evidently deep and pervasive in the respondent organization (CIDC) right from its inception to funding, control and operations. Thus, we are of the considered opinion that the CIDC is substantially financed by the Central Government and is a fit organisation to be defined as ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.” Subhash Chandra Agrawal v. S.N. Murthy, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 2126, decided on 25.06.2015

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): The FIR and charge sheet filed by Delhi Police on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi must be disclosed, directed CIC while disposing of an appeal filed by an RTI activist in the matter. Said order of the Commission came upon an appeal filed by an RTI activist from Odisha who had made a seven-point application to the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking a copy of the FIR and charge sheet among other pieces of information including whether any post mortem was done as per law. The Ministry of Home Affairs forwarded the application to the National Archives of India and the Director of Gandhi Samriti and Darshan Samiti. It was informed by Gandhi Samriti and Darshan Samiti that no post-mortem examination was performed in the case as per the wishes of the family. Regarding the information on FIR and charge sheet, Gandhi Samriti and Darshan Samiti responded that they do no have any information related to the same as the investigation was carried out by Tughlak Road Police Station which had registered the FIR after the assassination. The National Archives of India also informed the appellant that he might visit its office to find out information required by him in keeping with the provisions of the Public Records Act, 1993 and Public Records Rules, 1997. While disposing of the appeal, CIC directed Ministry of Home Affairs to attempt another search in the matter and provide information to appellant. It was further directed that if the information in question is not available in Ministry of Home Affairs or Tughlak Road Police Station, the CPIO of the Home Ministry shall inform the appellant in writing. Hemanta Panda v. National Archives of India, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 2125, decided on 25.06.2015

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): CIC has directed Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) to disclose public information on distribution companies’ (DISCOMs) tariff petitions in simple and easy language with analysis and explanations so that a common man may understand and respond, before inviting their objections and views. The Commission was hearing a complaint filed by an activist who alleged that as the necessary information has not been placed in public domain by DERC which has sought people’s opinion on the tariff fixation; it was a violation of mandatory disclosure clause of the RTI Act. It was further alleged that if DERC applies the tariff fixation without disclosing the complete information and hearing the objections, it would cause irreparable loss to the consumers in Delhi and will result in undue benefits to the distribution companies. Earlier, the complainant had filed RTI application seeking information on Distribution Transformer Wise negative losses in respect of BRPL, BYPL, TPDDL for the year 2011-12 but was informed that comprehensive analysis of the losses in respect of DTs which record high losses while taking the energy supplied from the DTs would be submitted for further directions of the Commission but was not submitted. After perusal of relevant material on record and provisions of Electricity Act, 2003 and RTI Act, CIC observed that, “Under Section 4(1)(c) of RTI Act, read with relevant provisions of the Electricity Act, DERC has a responsibility to provide complete information about tariff fixation, which is something that affects millions of power consumers in the national capital.” The Commission also observed that Section 64(3) of Electricity Act mandates the DERC to publish the application, in such abridged form and manner as may be specified by the Commission. While rejecting the claim of DERC that details cannot be shared before a decision is taken, CIC noted that DERC has a mandate to inform the people while formulating the tariff because it is seeking their objections and views, which cannot be given without complete information. The Commission further directed DERC to pro-actively disclose information on controversial points like prudence check on electricity companies, non-submission of report on prudence check by consultant PWC, Income Tax issues, cost incurred by discoms in contesting cases in Supreme Court against CAG audit and CIC decision making them answerable under the RTI Act, among others. CIC also directed DERC to explain to the public the impact of these factors on consumer interests vis-a-vis profits earned by DISCOMs so that people and stakeholders can provide their views or objections based on a complete understanding of the matter. Anil Sood v. Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 609, decided on 09.05.2015

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): “Thesis submitted to a university is not private or personal information of the candidate who submitted it, but the property of the University, which has to discuss and decide whether it deserves the award of Ph.D or not”, held CIC while directing ARID Forest Research Institution to provide the copy of thesis sought by the appellant. The Commission was hearing an appeal filed by a researcher who alleged that her co-researcher cunningly took the theme and her work from her research work and submitted it as her thesis to the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, and hence, she must obtain the copy of the submitted thesis to prove her allegation. The appellant through RTI application sought copy of minutes of meeting of pre-thesis submission seminar of the researcher, copy of her thesis, all correspondence related to research work, rules and regulation of research work and related records. The appellant also submitted that she was denied information by ARID Forest Research Institution on the ground that the said information was third-party information. After perusing the material on record and hearing both the parties, CIC observed that, “One of the purposes of seminar of pre-submission and viva voce of Ph. D candidate is to ascertain whether research work of candidate is original and the work done by the candidate only. It is not third party information. Moreover, there is a public interest in knowing the originality of otherwise of the thesis, especially when a serious allegation of appropriating the research work is made by the co-researcher,  it is the duty of the academic institution to clear the allegation after due verification.” While ordering the disclosure of the required information, CIC also directed the Institute to treat the RTI application as a complaint against the researcher, against whom allegations were made and to carry out inquiry in the matter. Meeta Sharma v. PIO, ARID Forest Research Institution, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 606 , decided on 30.03.2015

High Courts

Delhi High Court: Deciding the issue that whether disclosure of personal information of the interviewers of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) selection committee falls within the purview of exceptions provided under Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (Act) which deals with exemption from disclosure of information, the Court held that UPSC is a public authority and disclosure of personal information of the employee of the aforesaid authority can be done only if the applicant is able to show that sustainable public interest is involved which in the present case respondent has failed to provide any specific reason as to why such disclosure is necessary for public interest. The Court elaborated that disclosure of personal information invades the right to privacy of a public officer which is a fundamental right in the Constitution. The Court further explained that a fiduciary relationship is established between examinee authority and an examiner/interviewer who expects his name and other particulars would not be disclosed to candidates and general public, therefore such disclosure of such details given in fiduciary capacity to UPSC would be violative of the provisions of the Section 8 (1); (e) of the Act.

In instant case where the counsel for petitioner Naresh Kaushik contended that disclosure of personal information would have caused unwarranted invasion of privacy of the members of the Selection Committee and might also put their life in danger on other hand counsel for respondent Shomona Khanna submitted that under Section 8 the competent authority has to decide whether to disseminate the information while keeping in mind the larger public interest and Central Information Commission has correctly done the same.

The Court also cited the Supreme Court decision on Bihar Public Service Commission v. Saiyad Hussain Abbas Rizvi (2012) 13 SCC 61 and held that disclosure of personal information may endanger the physical safety of an examinerinterviewer who under the apprehension of danger to his life may not able to perform his duties. Union Public Service Commission v. Dr. Mahesh Mangalat, 2015 SCC OnLine Del 8172, decided on 17.03.2015

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): “The records relating to rape victims cannot be totally blocked from sharing for research purposes on the ground of personal information under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act,” noted CIC while directing the Delhi Commission for Women to make public records of rapes committed in Delhi but with strict conditions to ensure that identities of victims are not disclosed. Said order was pronounced by the Commission while hearing an appeal filed by RTI applicant who sought information on rape victims for research purpose. Earlier the applicant approached the Secretary of the Department for the required information, who after knowing the purpose, refused to furnish the records. It was submitted by Delhi Commission for Women that the information sought by the applicant cannot be furnished as it would involve infringing the right of privacy of the accused and the victim as it was not possible to separate the names of the victims from various documents including medico-legal case reports. After perusal of records, the Commission observed that, “When it is possible to separate information that can be given from that cannot be given; the PIO has to invoke doctrine of severability to facilitate the information.” While setting strict guidelines for disclosure of sensitive information, CIC directed, “Facilitate inspection of the records to the authorized female representative of the appellant (applicant) with an assurance that they shall not bring any electronic device like video records, mobile, camera etc, block out the names and personal details of the victim and accused by whitener on the Photostat copies.” It was also directed that each paper shall be verified by the officials of Delhi Women Commission to ensure that nowhere victims’ names and private details are revealed before certifying. In addition, appellant was directed to enter a non-disclosure agreement with an undertaking that he/his representative will not reveal information about the personal details of the victims and the accused and that they shall be responsible for any such revelation through the documents shared. The applicant was further warned by the Commission that any such disclosure would not only result in the breach of undertaking but also an offence under the Indian Penal Code. “It shall be responsibility of the respondent authority to secure records, and the appellant (applicant) shall share the copy of the research report with the Women’s Commission and this Commission,” the Commission added. (Baladevan Rangaraju v. Delhi Commission for Women, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 602, decided on March 3, 2015

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): While observing that it is the bounden duty of Bar Council of India (BCI) to make all the previous question papers available to the young lawyers, CIC directed BCI to post on its website the question papers and keys of the All India Bar Examination on its website. CIC was hearing an appeal filed by an RTI activist who sought the copy of previous question papers prepared for the conduct of All India Bar Examination. Earlier, the information was not furnished to the appellant on the pretext that at that time the Bar Council was considering the policy decision as to disclosure of question papers. Before the Commission, BCI submitted that the copies of last three examination papers can be provided to the appellant but the copies of first three examinations cannot be provided as All India Bar Exams (AIBE) were conducted by private contractor Rainmaker, and BCI claimed that the company had not shared the first three AIBE question papers with the BCI. While rejecting the excuse of BCI that the question papers were not handed over to them by Rainmaker, CIC noted that, “If the firm which conducted tests has not handed over the copies of examination papers, the Bar Council of India should have initiated legal action to recover them.” The Commission observed that around 27000 young advocates could not clear this qualifying examination and every year law universities and law departments of other universities will be rolling out thousands of young law graduates, who are expected to take this mandatory examination. CIC directed the Public Authority to collect the copy of question papers with key for first three years from the Rainmaker firm which conducted examination, and keep the same on official website for the use of young lawyers. CIC also directed BCI to provide question papers along with the key on the official website immediately after completion of every Examination, as it would avoid exploitation of young lawyers by commercial elements through selling the question papers with key at exorbitant rates. (B.N. Reddy v. Bar Council of India, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 603, decided on 17-03-2015)