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]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission: “Since KCC (Kisan Credit Card) loans benefit from interest subvention given from Government funds, some information concerning the same ought to be available in the public domain,” observed CIC while directing Central Bank of India to disclose the names of borrowers alongwith the borrowed amount. The matter pertains to an RTI application filed by a person, seeking information regarding details of beneficiaries of KCC loans, given by the Gaura branch of Central Bank of India. Gaura branch of Central Bank of India comes under Gora Karamwa District, West Champaran, Bihar. During the course of proceedings, CIC noted that the information sought by the appellant included the names, father’s name and address etc., together with copies of all loan documents, of the borrowers and as such information is held by the bank in a fiduciary capacity, it is exempted from disclosure under Section 8 (1)(e) of the RTI Act. However, CIC further noted that since KCC loans benefit from interest subvention given from Government funds, some information concerning the same ought to be available in the public domain. “In view of the foregoing, we direct the CPIO to provide to the Appellant, if not already done, the information concerning the names of borrowers, together with the amount disbursed in each case, in respect of those who were given KCC loans by the Gaura branch from 8.3.2011 to 21.1.2013,” the Commission observed while issuing a direction to CPIO of the Bank to complete action in the matter within thirty days of the receipt of the order. (Sanjay Kumar Pandey v. Central Bank of India, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 14049 decided on November 30, 2015)