Deciding appeals under the RTI Act is a quasi judicial function - The FAA should see that justice is not only done but it should also appear to have been done - The expression "public interest" must be viewed in its strict sense with all its exceptions
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 04 points inter alia regarding the number of cars with blue/red beacon lights, CCTV footage of the cars and of one Dr. Pradeep Kumar Pachori in his room, local purchase of Raksha Vihar W.C. for the last financial year as also for the year 2012 to 2014 etc.
Dissatisfied due to the non-receipt of a response from the CPIO within the stipulated time period, the Appellant approached the FAA. Subsequently, the CPIO, vide its letter dated 18/22.11.2016, provided a point wise response to the Appellant. The FAA, vide its order dated 23.11.2016, informed the Appellant that the sought information had already been provided to him.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Appellant: Mr. Sanat Kumar through VC;
Respondent: Dr. O. P. Narayan, CPIO through VC;
The Appellant reiterated the contents of his RTI application and stated that the information sought by him had not been provided despite reminders. The letter of the CPIO was also ambiguous and evasive. The Respondent present at the hearing submitted that the earlier CPIO Mr. Asharam, AO had since retired and they would await the directions of the Commission to provide the information. It was appalling to note that the Respondent Public Authority was unaware of the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and the information sought in public interest should have been provided forthwith.
The Commission felt that correct and timely response was the essence of the RTI mechanism enacted to ensure transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities. In this context, the Commission referred to the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Mujibur Rehman vs Central Information Commission (W.P. (C) 3845/2007)(Dated 28 April, 2009) wherein it had been held as under:
“14.......The court cannot be unmindful of the circumstances under which the Act was framed, and brought into force. It seeks to foster an "openness culture" among state agencies, and a wider section of "public authorities" whose actions have a significant or lasting impact on the people and their lives. Information seekers are to be furnished what they ask for, unless the Act prohibits disclosure; they are not to be driven away through sheer inaction or filibustering tactics of the public authorities or their officers. It is to ensure these ends that time limits have been prescribed, in absolute terms, as well as penalty provisions. These are meant to ensure a culture of information disclosure so necessary for a robust and functioning democracy.”
Furthermore, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court decision in J P Aggarwal v. Union of India (WP (C) no. 7232/2009 it has held that:
“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 reference was drawn to the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of J.P Agrawal v. Union of India-2013(287) ELT25(Del.) wherein it was held as under:
7. “it is the PIO to whom the application is submitted and it is who is responsible for ensuring that the information as sought is provided to the applicant within the statutory requirements of the Act. Section 5(4) is simply to strengthen the authority of the PIO within the department; if the PIO finds a default by those from whom he has sought information. The PIO is expected to recommend a remedial action to be taken”. The RTI Act makes the PIO the pivot for enforcing the implementation of the Act.”
Furthermore, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of R.K. Jain vs Union of India, LPA No. 369/2018, dated 29.08.2018, held as under:
“9………………………….. That apart, the CPIO being custodian of the information or the documents sought for, is primarily responsible under the scheme of the RTI Act to supply the information and in case of default or dereliction on his part, the penal action is to be invoked against him only. The Appellate Authority is not the custodian of the information or the document. It is only a statutory authority to take a decision on an appeal with regard the tenability or otherwise of the action of the CPIO and, therefore, there is a conscious omission in making the Appellate Authority liable for a penal action under Section 20 of the RTI Act and if that be the scheme of the Act and the legislative intention, we see no error in the order passed by the learned writ Court warranting reconsideration.”
Furthermore, in OM No. 20/10/23/2007-IR dated 09.07.2009, while elaborating on the duties and responsibilities of the FAA, it was stated that:
“3. Deciding appeals under the RTI Act is a quasi judicial function. It is, therefore, necessary that the appellate authority should see that the justice is not only done but it should also appear to have been done. In order to do so, the order passed by the appellate authority should be a speaking order giving justification for the decision arrived at.
Moreover, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of Bihar Public Service Commission v. Saiyed Hussain Abbas Rizwi: (2012) 13 SCC 61 while explaining the term “Public Interest” held:
“22. The expression "public interest" has to be understood in its true connotation so as to give complete meaning to the relevant provisions of the Act. The expression "public interest" must be viewed in its strict sense with all its exceptions so as to justify denial of a statutory exemption in terms of the Act. In its common parlance, the expression "public interest", like "public purpose", is not capable of any precise definition. It does not have a rigid meaning, is elastic and takes its colour from the statute in which it occurs, the concept varying with time and state of society and its needs (State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Singh([AIR 1952 SC 252]). It also means the general welfare of the public that warrants recognition and protection; something in which the public as a whole has a stake [Black's Law Dictionary (8th Edn.)].”
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of Ashok Kumar Pandey vs The State of West Bengal (decided on 18 November, 2003Writ Petition (crl.) 199 of 2003) had made reference to the following texts for defining the meaning of “public interest’, which is stated as under:
“Strouds Judicial Dictionary, Volume 4 (IV Edition),'Public Interest' is defined thus: "Public Interest (1) a matter of public or general interest does not mean that which is interesting as gratifying curiosity or a love of information or amusement but that in which a class of the community have a pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected." In Black's Law Dictionary (Sixth Edition), "public interest" is defined as follows: Public Interest something in which the public, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected. It does not mean anything the particular localities, which may be affected by the matters in question. Interest shared by national government....”
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties, the Commission directs the Respondent to furnish the information sought by the Appellant within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order failing which action under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005 would be initiated.
The Appeal stands disposed with the above direction.
Citation: Mr. Sanat Kumar v. CPIO Central Government Health Scheme in Second Appeal No.:- CIC/MH&FW/A/2017/105359-BJ, Date of Decision : 08.02.2019