Appellant sought the present position of his complaint and action taken against Fortis Hospital for allegedly playing with the life of a Senior Citizen - PIO feigned ignorance of the matter - CIC cautioned the CPIO, CGHS - CIC: DGHS to fix responsibility
O R D E R
The Complainant vide his RTI application sought information on 03 points in reference to letter no 14-22/2011/CGHS/CZ/2003-04 dated 10.05.2018 addressed to the J. D. Grievance, CGHS, H.Q. R. K. Puram, Sector 12, New Delhi, a copy of the correspondence exchanged from 10.05.2018 till the date of filing of the RTI application; present position of his complaint and action taken against Fortis Hospital for playing with the life of a Senior Citizen. The CPIO/CGHS/CZ, vide its letter dated 06.08.2018, transferred the RTI application to the CPIO, J. D. Grievance, CGHS (HQ), for providing available information to the Complainant directly. Subsequently, the CPIO and Joint Director (Grievance), vide its letter dated 16.08.2018, informed that the Complaint made against Fortis Hospital, Mohali, did not come under the jurisdiction of CGHS (HQ), Delhi. As the matter pertained to CGHS city outside Delhi, therefore, the letter no. dated 10.05.2018 along with the copy of complaint of the Appellant was transferred to the concerned Section for further necessary action. Dissatisfied with the CPIO’s response, the Complainant approached the Commission
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Complainant: Mr. D. C. Gupta through TC;
Respondent: Dr. J. N. Murmu, CPIO, CGHS through TC;
The Complainant reiterated the contents of the RTI application and stated that the information sought regarding the copy of correspondences exchanged and the present position of his complaint dated 10.05.2018 and the action taken against Fortis Hospital, Mohali, for playing with the life of a Senior Citizen, was not provided, till date. It was further submitted that he was denied Cashless treatment by Fortis Hospital, Mohali due to Paralysis problem on 14.02.2018 and therefore, complaint was lodged for taking strict action against the Hospital. However, no response was received on his Complaint, till date. The Respondent, present during the hearing, feigned ignorance of the matter and was unable to respond to the queries raised by the Complainant as well as the Commission. On being questioned regarding the date on which the desired information was furnished, no cogent reply was offered by the Respondent
Having heard both the parties and on perusal of the available records, the Commission observed that no reply within the time period stipulated under the RTI Act, 2005 was provided to the Complainant. The Respondent, present during the hearing was totally clueless and ignorant about the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and could not answer a single query raised by the Commission. He appeared unprepared for the hearing and repeatedly failed to answer any of the queries raised by the Commission.
The Commission felt that correct and timely response is 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.”
With regard to providing a clear and cogent response to the Complainant, the Commission referred 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.”
The Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of Shri Vivek Mittal v. B.P. Srivastava, W.P.(C) 19122/2006 dated 24.08.2009 had upheld the view of the CIC and observed
“…..that a CPIO cannot escape his obligations and duties by stating that persons appointed under him had failed to collect documents and information. The Act as framed, castes obligation upon the CPIOs and fixes responsibility in case there is failure or delay in supply of information. It is the duty of the CPIOs to ensure that the provisions of the Act are fully complied with and in case of default, necessary consequences follow”.
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.
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.”
The Commission also noted that it should be the endeavour of the CPIO to ensure that maximum assistance should be provided to the RTI applicants to ensure the flow of information. In this context, the Commission referred to the OM No.4/9/2008-IR dated 24.06.2008 issued by the DoP&T on the Subject “Courteous behavior with the persons seeking information under the RTI Act, 2005” wherein it was stated as under:
“The undersigned is directed to say that the responsibility of a public authority and its public information officers (PIO) is not confined to furnish information but also to provide necessary help to the information seeker, wherever necessary.”
The Commission observed that there is complete negligence and laxity in the public authority in dealing with the RTI applications. It is abundantly clear that such matters are being ignored and set aside without application of mind which reflects disrespect towards the RTI Act, 2005 itself. The Commission expressed its displeasure on the casual and callous approach adopted by the respondent in responding to the RTI application. It was felt that the conduct of Respondent was against the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 which was enacted to ensure greater transparency and effective access to the information.
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.”
A reference can also be made to a recent decision of the High Court of Delhi in the matter of Shikha Bagga Vs. Public Information Officer, Directorate of Education and Another’s, in W. P. (C) 4172/2017 dated 13.07.2017 wherein it was held as under:
“4. Clearly, transferring the petitioner’s application to various schools is unsustainable. The PIO is required to provide all such information as sought for, subject to the exceptions as provided under the Act. 5. In the circumstances, the writ petition is allowed and the impugned letters/orders dated 18.04.2017 and 22.04.2017 transferring the petitioner’s application to various officers and various schools are set aside. It is directed that the petitioner’s application be considered by respondent no.1 in accordance with law”
Furthermore, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in the matter of Block Development Officer, Paonta Sahib vs. State Information Commission and Anr., CWP No. 6072 of 2012 dated 27.06.2018 held as under:
“9. It is vehemently urged by learned counsel for the petitioner that the impugned order suffers from vice of arbitrariness and, therefore, should be quashed and set aside. It was further argued that the petitioner on receipt of the application had transferred it to the concerned authorities and, therefore, there was no lapse on his part. He would also urge that the petitioner did not know the intricacies of the RTI Act and, therefore, he could not have been penalized. 10. I find no merit in the contention put-forth by the petitioner. It is more than settled that ignorance of law can be no excuse. Once the petitioner is designated as PIO, then all the more he is deemed to have knowledge and even otherwise the least that was required of him was to have acquainted himself thoroughly with the provisions of the RTI Act. Therefore, the explanation as sought to be put-forth by the petitioner at this stage clearly reflects the lackadaisical attitude of the petitioner. The only reasonable explanation for the cause of delay can be accepted and not lame excuses.”
With regard to disclosure of outcome of the Complaint made by the Complainant in his own case, the Commission observed that the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of Kamal Bhasin v. Radha Krishna Mathur and Ors., W.P.(C) 7218/2016 dated 01.11.2017 had held as under:
“6. In the present case, the petitioner stands as a relator party as he is also one of the complainants. The petitioner is not seeking any personal information regarding respondent No. 3, but merely seeks to know the outcome of the complaint made by him and other such complaints. The PFC Officers Association had pointed out certain conduct which according to them was irregular and warranted disciplinary action; thus, they would be certainly entitled to know as to how their complaints have been treated and the results thereof.
7. Section 8 (1) (j) of the Act reads as under:-
"8. Exemption from disclosure of information.-(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,- xxxxxxxxx (j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has not relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Central Information Commission appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information."
8. It is apparent from the plain reading of the aforesaid clause that in order to claim exemption from disclosure of any information, the essential conditions that must be satisfied are:
(i) that it is personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest; or (b) that it would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual. However, even if the aforesaid conditions are satisfied, the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Appellate Authority may disclose the information if they are satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.
9. The proviso of Section 8 (1) of the Act is also important and reads as under: "Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person."
10. By virtue of the aforesaid proviso to Section 8(1) of the Act, it is enacted that information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person. In the present case, it was doubtful whether information as to the fate of the complaints can be considered as personal information that has no relationship with public interest or public activity. The activity of the Central Vigilance Department includes investigation and taking action in cases of corruption. Secondly, the complaint related to the allegations of misconduct and how these complaints were treated were clearly matter of public interest.
11 In the circumstances, this Court directs the respondent to disclose to the petitioner as to what action had been taken pursuant to his complaint and other similar complaints made against the then CMD. The petitioner would not be entitled to any notings and deliberations of the Group of Officers or Disciplinary Authority but only information as to what action was taken in relation to the complaints in question.”
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties, the Commission while cautioning the CPIO (Dr. J. N. Murmu, CPIO, CGHS) over his casual and callous approach and his ill-preparedness to depose before the Commission during the hearing and blatantly violating the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, instructs the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), to depute an officer of an appropriate seniority to examine the matter and fix responsibility and accountability on the delinquent officer for not responding to the RTI application as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, and submit its report within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this order depending upon the condition for containment of the Corona Virus Pandemic in the Country, to the Complainant under intimation to the Commission.
The Commission also instructs the Respondent Public Authority to convene periodic conferences/seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of its duties and responsibilities.
The Complaint stands disposed accordingly. (The Order will be posted on the website of the Commission).
Chief Information Commissioner
Citation: Mr. D. C. Gupta v. C.G.H.S. in Complaint No.:- CIC/CGHSD/C/2018/159391-BJ, Date of Decision : 13.07.2020