Information regarding utilization of public funds in the National Programme for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment (NPCB&VI) - CIC: DG of Health Services to appoint an officer and provide a point-wise clear, cogent and precise response
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 08 Points in respect of the name, address and registration certificates of the Institutions affiliated under The National Programme for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment (NPCB&VI), Rajasthan, details of the appropriate government granting funds to the affiliated/ approved institutions and issues related thereto.
The CPIO, vide its reply dated 08.12.2017, provided a point-wise response to the Appellant. Dissatisfied by the response of the CPIO, the Appellant approached the FAA. The FAA, vide its order dated 01.02.2018, concurred with the response of the CPIO.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Appellant: Mr. Mahendra Kumar Mehta through VC;
Respondent: Dr. Indu Grewal, CMO & CPIO (NPCBVI) and Mr. S. S. Chauhan, SSO;
The Appellant reiterated the contents of the RTI application and stated that no satisfactory information was received by him from CPIO and that the application was also transferred to the State Government Department of NPCB&VI, Rajasthan beyond the period stipulated under the RTI Act, 2005 since the same was sent by ordinary post on 12.12.2017 and received by him on 22.12.2017. He further referred to his written submission dated 22.06.2019 and submitted that the information sought being related to utilization of public funds granted by the Central Government having a majority stake in the National Programme for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment (NPCB&VI), Rajasthan should have been disclosed to him after obtaining the details from the concerned organization / authority / department. In its reply, the Respondent reiterated their earlier responses and submitted that the RTI application apart from point No. 06 was transferred to the State Programme Officer (NPCB&VI), Rajasthan who were the custodian of the information. However, despite the transfer of the RTI application, no reply was forwarded by them to the Appellant. On being queried by the Commission regarding their stake in the programme which was the subject matter of the RTI application, the Respondent submitted that the Central Government had a 60% share in the implementation of the programme and the remaining 40% share was held by the State Government of Rajasthan who were concerned with determining the eligibility / qualifications etc. of the NGOs participating in the programme and to ascertain if the objectives were being fulfilled or not. On being questioned by the Commission if he had approached the State Government of Rajasthan on these issues, the Appellant replied in the affirmative and submitted that consequent to not receiving any satisfactory response from the State Government, he was compelled to file the instant RTI application with the DGHS, New Delhi. To a query from the Commission regarding monitoring and auditing of district-wise implementation of the programme and utilization of funds in the project which was majorly funded by the Central Government as conveyed by the Respondent during the hearing, no satisfactory response was offered by the Respondent who submitted that consolidated audit statements were already furnished to them and that the budgetary process was accordingly finalized. When questioned about seeking the information from the concerned State Government and providing the same to the Appellant and also disclosing the information if so desired by the Parliament / State Legislature, the Respondent submitted that they had already acted in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for transferring the RTI application and that if any such details were indeed required by the Parliament / State Legislature they would make necessary attempts to collate and furnish the same. The Respondent was unaware of the total budgetary allocation and the modalities adopted for its utilization. It was submitted that the audited receipt of the fund utilization was accepted by their Finance Wing without examining the procedures deployed for monitoring the expenditure and its real impact at the grass root level.
The Commission was in receipt of a written submission from the Appellant dated 22.06.2019, wherein it was submitted that information for the entire country was available with the Public Authority and that is order to conceal their irregularities, the Respondent was denying it to him. It was further alleged that their Jaipur office was disbursing/ distributing funds through the State Government and that false and misleading information was provided vide letter dated 08.12.2017. Moreover, it was also alleged that in Rajasthan, EBSR was a registered organization which had entered into agreements with NGOs to illegally obtain Cornea in lieu of payment. Thus, while stating that the details sought pertained to payment through public funds the Appellant alleged widespread corruption and irregularity in the affairs of the Public Authority. The Commission was also in receipt of a written submission from the Respondent dated 25.06.2019, wherein it was stated that NPCB&VI was a centrally sponsored scheme of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The scheme was being implemented in a decentralized manner through the respective State Health authorities. As per the guidelines of NPCB&VI, State/District was the nodal agency for registration and recognition of organizations/NGOs for participation in the eye care activities. Therefore, the details viz. name, address, registration, grant allotted, period of work, corneal collection and utilization etc. of the organization registered by the State/District authorities was maintained by the State concerned. Since State was the custodian of the information, a copy of the RTI application dated 04.12.2017 was transferred to State Programme Officer (NPCB&VI), Rajasthan for furnishing information on the points 01 to 05 & 07 of the application. It was therefore, requested to advise the Applicant to approach the appropriate authorities in the Health Department of the Govt. of Rajasthan, who were the custodian of the information sought.
Having heard both the parties and on perusal of the available records, the Commission observed that the Appellant had raised very pertinent issues regarding utilization of public funds in National Programme for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment (NPCB&VI), Rajasthan which as a citizen of India he was entitled to seek. Admittedly during the hearing the Respondent conveyed that they were 60% stakeholders in the project and that by virtue of such contribution they could obtain the details from the concerned State Government and provide it to the Appellant.
The Commission referred to the observations made by Hon’ble Courts in the light of disclosure of information in “public interest”, keeping in view the true spirit behind the promulgation of the RTI Act, 2005, which are as under:
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in SLP(C) NO. 7526/2009 (CBSE & Anr. Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors) had observed as under:
“37. The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability. The provisions of RTI Act should be enforced strictly and all efforts should be made to bring to light the necessary information under Clause (b) of Section 4(1) of the Act which relates to securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities and in discouraging corruption”
The High Court of Delhi in General Manager Finance Air India Ltd & Anr v. Virender Singh, LPA No. 205/2012, Decided On: 16.07.2012 regarding the disclosure of information for public interest, held:
“8. The RTI Act, as per its preamble was enacted to enable the citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. An informed citizenry and transparency of information have been spelled out as vital to democracy and to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. The said legislation is undoubtedly one of the most significant enactments of independent India and a landmark in governance.”
The High Court of Bombay in Shonkh Technology International Ltd. v. State Information Commission Maharashtra Konkan Region, Appellate Authority and United Telecom Limited v. State Information Commission Maharashtra Konkan Region and Ors., W.P. Nos. 2912 and 3137 of 2011 decided on 01.07.2011 held as under
"The RTI Act is an Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. The preamble of the RTI Act itself refers to this aspect and the constitutional principles enshrined in several articles of the Constitution. It is very clearly postulated that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold the Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. The revelation of information in actual practice 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. Therefore, the RTI Act seeks to harmonize these conflicting interests while preserving the paramount nature of democratic ideals."
Moreover, the purpose and object of the promulgation of the RTI Act,2005 was to make the public authorities more transparent and accountable to the public and to provide freedom to every citizen to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, consistent with public interest, in order to promote openness, transparency and accountability in administration and in relation to matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. 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....”
In Mardia Chemical Limited v. Union of India (2004) 4 SCC 311, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India while considering the validity of SARFAESI Act and recovery of non-performing assets by banks and financial institutions in India, recognised the significance of Public Interest and had held as under :
“.............Public interest has always been considered to be above the private interest. Interest of an individual may, to some extent, be affected but it cannot have the potential of taking over the public interest having an impact in the socio-economic drive of the country...........”
Also, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the decision of R.B.I. and Ors. V. Jayantilal N. Mistry and Ors, Transferred Case (Civil) No. 91 of 2015 (Arising out of Transfer Petition (Civil) No. 707 of 2012 decided on 16.12.2015, while dealing with significance of free flow of information had stated as under:
“The ideal of ‘Government by the people’ makes it necessary that people have access to information on matters of public concern. The free flow of information about affairs of Government paves way for debate in public policy and fosters accountability in Government. It creates a condition for ‘open governance’ which is a foundation of democracy.”
Moreover, it cannot be said that the transferring authority can be completely absolved of his duties and responsibilities as CPIO after transferring the RTI applications. In this context, a reference can be made to the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in J P Aggarwal v. Union of India (WP (C) no. 7232/2009 wherein it was held that:
“ 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.” 8………….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.”
Furthermore, in Ministry Of Railways Through ... vs Girish Mittal on 12 September, 2014 W.P.(C) 6088/2014 & CM Nos.14799/2014, 14800/2014 & 14801/2014, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi held as under:
“15. The plain language of Section 6(3) of the Act indicates that the public authority would transfer the application or such part of it to another public authority where the information sought is more closely connected with the functions of the other authority. The reliance placed by the learned counsel for the petitioner on the provisions of Section 6(3) of the Act is clearly misplaced in the facts and circumstances of the case. This is not a case where penalty has been imposed with respect to queries which have been referred to another public authority, but with respect to queries that were to be addressed by the public authority of which petitioner no. 2 is a Public Information Officer. Section 6(3) of the Act cannot be read to mean that the responsibility of a CPIO is only limited to forwarding the applications to different departments/offices. Forwarding an application by a public authority to another public authority is not the same as a Public Information Officer of a public authority arranging or sourcing information from within its own organisation. In the present case, undisputedly, certain information which was not provided to respondent would be available with the Railway Board and the CPIO was required to furnish the same. He cannot escape his responsibility to provide the information by simply stating that the queries were forwarded to other officials.”
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties and taking into consideration the larger public interest involved in the matter, the Commission instructs the Director General, Directorate General of Health Services to appoint an officer of an appropriate seniority to re-examine the matter taking necessary assistance of the Directorate of Health Services & Family Welfare, State Government of Rajasthan and provide a point-wise clear, cogent and precise response to the Appellant within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this order. The response of the Respondent was far from satisfactory and did not address the issues of objectivity and transparency as enshrined in the Preamble to the RTI Act, 2005. The Appeal stands disposed accordingly.
Citation: Mr. Mahendra Kumar Mehta v. CPIO & Consultant (SAG) Directorate General of Health Services in Second Appeal No.:- CIC/DTGHS/A/2018/112653-BJ, Date of Decision: 05.07.2019