Appellant filed more than 10 RTI applications about a property - CIC observed that he is misusing the RTI Act - CIC: information seeker shall not be allowed to repeat the RTI application & seek the same information in slightly modified form of question
2. The appellant submitted that through his RTI application dated 2.4.2013, he has sought information regarding documentary evidence under registration No.3315 in additional book No.1, Vol.No.4804 on page 62 to 72 dated 6.5.2009 and the related details etc. The PIO has given reply by his letter dated 30.4.2013 on which the appellant made first appeal before the FAA, who by his order dated 19.7.2013 directed the SRIX to provide the information within 15 days positively. Claiming nonsatisfaction over the information furnished by the respondent authority, the appellant has filed 2nd appeal before the Commission.
3. Heard the submissions made by both the parties. The respondent officer submitted that the appellant has filed several RTI applications on the same property. The appellant agreed that he had filed more than 10 applications about the same property. The Commission finds that he is misusing the RTI Act, even though he has already got the information. The respondent officer has shown the acknowledgement signed by the appellant, having received the information. As gathered from the submissions made by the appellant himself, he has been the tenant in the same property for the past 17 years, and he has been seeking information about its landlord. There is no public interest in his RTI application. The appellant has already using Delhi Rent Control law to harass the owner. The only information left out to be given by the respondent authority, is the time of registration of the document, which the respondent has submitted that there was no practice of recording time during that relevant period, even though the same is being recorded at present.
4. The Commission in its earlier order No.CIC/AD/A/2013/001326SA delivered on 25.6.2014 in the case of R.C.Jain Vs. DTC, with respect to RTI applications which are repetitive and harassing in nature had observed:
7. The Commission noticed three or four former employees in every public authority, who were either suspended or removed or facing charges, convicted in a crime or facing disciplinary action trying to run a counter inquiries with harassing questions. The Commission also noted an atmosphere of fear and worry was spread in the offices and the officers are hesitating to take action against erring staff members for fear of facing flood of questions under RTI. Sometimes, the RTI applications are running into hundreds similar to those posed by lawyers during cross examination. They appear like a parallel enquiry against the authorities who might have ordered disciplinary action against them.
Res judicata = already decided
12. The Commission noticed that some of the applicants are filing photocopies of RTI requests with the same or other public authorities time and again seeking information, irrespective of the fact that previous application reached second appeal level or information was furnished or refused as decided by the concerned authorities. When not taken to High Court for judicial review in stipulated period, the matter decided in second appeal assumes finality and cannot be sought for again from the PIO. Though Right to Information Act, 2005 did not have any specific provision to bar the repetition for information like Section 11 of Code of Civil Procedure, the universal principle of civil justice ‘res judicata’ will certainly apply and the repeated request need to be rejected with an emphasis. Two Latin maxims form the basis of this rule, they are: ‘interest republicae ut sit finis litium’ (= it is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation) and ‘nemo devet vis vexari pro una et eadem cause” (=no man should be taxed twice over for the same cause). If the PIOs, First Appellate Authorities and the Commissions entertain the repeated RTI applications, there will be no end to the information litigation and the public authorities would be continuously taxed for no fault of them. Appeal as provided by law is legal, because it is review and an opportunity to challenge the order on reasonable and legal grounds. Filing same or slightly modified application for information which was responded earlier is against the principles of natural justice; both procedural and substantive justice as far as right to information is concerned.
13. The universal principles of civil justice also recognized ‘constructive res judicata’, which means in the RTI context, when an applicant intends to avail opportunity of obtaining information on a particular subject, he is expected to seek all the related information in that opportunity itself. He cannot file another application for a bit or piece which he forgot to ask, or not advised by his lawyer, or for any other reason. He should ask all possible aspects of information about that subject matter, once and for all. If he does not, it is assumed that he asked for that and was refused properly. This is incorporated in principles of civil procedural justice and practiced universally. It is in the public interest and also to further the objectives of Right to Information Act, that such repeated or unending stream of questions being sought from same or different public authorities to be stopped.
14. The Commission noticed that several applicants seek some information from one wing of the public authority, and based on the information received, file a bunch of RTI questions from the same or other wings of same public authority, or from other authority. This will have a continuous harassing effect on the public authority as the uncertainty continues. Even the PIO of Central Information Commission is flooded with such repeated questions from thousands angles by same person running into hundreds of RTI applications. As the PIOs went on answering, more and more questions are generated out of the same and in the same proportion the number of repeated first appeals and second appeals also will be growing.
The decisions of CIC in Prem Prakash Kumar v NFL, Panipat, (Decision no. 246/IC/(A)/2006, F.No. CIC/MA/A/2006/00374 & 375 dated 28 August 2006, Shri Gopal Soni v The New India Assurance Company Ltd (F No CIC/AT/A2008/00097, 000116, 000124, dated 12.6.2008), Sh K. Lall v Sh M K Bagri, Assistant Registrar of Companies & CPIO, F No. CIC/AT/A/2007/00112,CIC/SG/C/2011/000760,CIC/SM/A/2011/000926/SG,CIC/SM/A/2011/001111/SG,CIC/SG/A/2011/002909 Dated 17th January, 2012, the Hon’ble Commissioners observed that repetition of applications under RTI would lead to wastage of public money and energy of public offices like PIO, AA and CIC.
No scope for repeating under RTI Act
21. The Commission thus holds that though RTI Act, did not specifically provide as a ground of refusing the information, it is implied from the objective and various provisions of RTI Act, that any citizen has right to information only once and not repeatedly. Waste of public time and obstructing RTI
26. All the above discussion can be consolidated into:
(i) Even a single repetition of RTI application would demand the valuable time of the public authority, first appellate authority and if it also reaches second appeal, that of the Commission, which time could have been spent to hear another appeal or answer another application or perform other public duty.
(ii) Every repetition of RTI application which was earlier responded will be an obstruction of flow of information and defeats the purpose of the RTI Act.
Citizen has no Right to Repeat
27. For the above reasons and based on objective of the RTI Act, its provisions, their interpretation by the Information Commissioners referred above, reading them together, this Commission observes:
a) The citizen do not have a right to repeat the same or similar or slightly altered information request under RTI Act, 2005, for which he already got response.
b) Once an RTI application is answered, the appellants shall refrain themselves from filing another RTI application against the public authority as once information is received and held by them or posted in public domain, because such information is deemed to have ceased to be ‘held’ by the public authority.
Repetition shall be ground of refusal
c) Such repetition shall be considered as reasonable ground of refusal under the RTI Act.
d) An applicant or appellant repeating the RTI application or appeal either once or multiple times, suppressing the fact of earlier application and receipt of the answer, the CPIO of public authority shall reject it forthwith after intimating it along with reasons.
Appeals can be rejected
e) The First Appellate Authority and Commission shall be right and reasonable to consider this as a ground for rejecting the first or second appeal, respectively among other reasons if any.
5. Hon’ble Supreme Court in CBSE vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497, explained:
4 “67. Indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under the RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information (unrelated to transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities and eradication of corruption) would be counterproductive as it will adversely affect the efficiency of
the administration and result in the executive getting bogged down with the non-productive work of collecting and furnishing information. The Act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquillity and harmony among its citizens. Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty. The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties. The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the
authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees of a public authorities prioritising “information furnishing”, at the cost of their normal and regular duties.” Hon’ble Supreme Court of India with respect to information which is in the form of seeking opinion/advice has observed as follows: “ 35. At this juncture, it is necessary to clear some misconceptions about the RTI Act. The RTI Act provides access to all information that is available and existing. This is clear from a combined reading of Section 3and the definitions of 'information' and 'right to information' under Clauses (f) and (j) of Section 2 of the Act. If a public authority has any information in the form of data or analyzed data, or abstracts, or statistics, an applicant may access such information, subject to the exemptions in Section 8 of the Act. But where the information sought is not a part of the record of a public authority, and where such information is not required to be maintained under any law or the rules or regulations of the public authority, the Act does not cast an obligation upon the public authority, to collect or collate such nonavailable information and then furnish it to an applicant. A public authority is also not required to furnish information which require drawing of inferences and/or making of assumptions. It is also not required to provide 'advice' or 'opinion' to an applicant, nor required to obtain and furnish any 'opinion' or 'advice' to an applicant. The reference to 'opinion' or 'advice' in the definition of
'information' in Section 2(f) of the Act, only refers to such material available in the records of the public authority. ….”
6. Hon’ble Delhi High Court in SHAIL SAHNI Vs. SANJEEV KUMAR AND ORS. [W.P.(C) 845/2014] has observed that :
“10. Consequently, this Court deems it appropriate to refuse to exercise its writ jurisdiction. Accordingly, present petition is dismissed. This Court is also of the view that misuse of the RTI Act has to be appropriately dealt with, otherwise the public would lose faith and confidence in this “sunshine Act”. A beneficent Statute, when made a tool for mischief and abuse must be checked in accordance with law. A copy of this order is directed to be sent by the Registry to Defence and Law Ministry, so that they may examine the aspect of misuse of this Act, which confers very important and valuable rights upon a citizen.”
7. In P. Jayasankar v Chief Secretary to Government of Tamilnadu and Gunaseelan, IPS [W.P No. 3776 & 3778 /2013] held on 18.2.2013, the Hon’ble High Court of Madras has stated that when specific power is vested on the Commissioner and the Commission had proceeded against the information seeker, then it will be open to the said authority to disqualify a particular information seeker by passing a speaking order.
8. To address the problem of ‘harassing & repeated questions’, the Commission recommends the respondent authority to analyze all the RTI applications filed by appellant and similar persons if any, compile all the questions contained therein and indicate the information provided against them. That consolidated information along with a background note based on facts, avoiding unfounded allegations should also be placed on website besides sending a copy to the applicant and the concerned Information Commission. The Commission also recommends exhibiting such information in their notice board at the entrance or at any conspicuous place in their office and posting a photograph of such a notification on the website.
9. The entire information about the repeated RTI questions by appellant, and the documents given by the Public authority, the private interest of the appellant, if any, lack of public interest in the said RTI applications, etc. also should be kept in the public domain, so that people do not resort to filing repeated vexatious RTI applications leading to clogging of the public authority and depriving them of their valuable time that could have been spent on performance of their regular duties. The information in website also will serve as response to repeated RTI question. The same may be referred in the responses to first and second appeals.
10. No information seeker including the appellant in this case shall be allowed to repeat the RTI application and seek the same information in slightly modified form of question.
11. The Commission does not find any merit in the appeal, the same is dismissed.
(M. Sridhar Acharyulu)
Citation: Mr. Pradeep Bajaj v. Sub Registrar IX GNCTD, Delhi in File No.CIC/DS/A/2013/001487SA