CIC: if denial of information by PIO citing a specific exemption section were to by itself become a valid ground for invoking Section 18(1)(e) of the RTI Act, every PIO, who so denies information, would become vulnerable to action u/s 18(1)(e)
According to the complaint, the Complainant had filed an RTI application dated 24th August 2013 seeking information on eight points pertaining to a contract / purchase order. Vide her letter dated 25.9.2013, the CPIO provided information on points no. 1 (copy of the purchase order), 4 and 8. With regard to points no. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7, the CPIO denied information by invoking section 8(1)(d) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information; of the RTI Act, 2005 on the ground that this information was in the nature of commercial confidence, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party. The CPIO also stated that the complainant had not cited any larger public interest in his RTI application which would warrant the disclosure of the information. On 10.10.2013, the Complainant filed a complaint against the response given by the CPIO on the ground of “none adherence of the provisions of 18(e) of the Right to Information Act, 2005”. In this complaint he advanced arguments in favour of disclosure of the information sought by him. In the section of his complaint on ‘relief sought’, he requested the Commission to direct the concerned authorities to disseminate all the information, which was statutory and under the direct control / accessibility of the public authority. In this context, he underlined the importance of the subject matter as the poor work force was vulnerable to exploitation.
2. The Complainant was not present in spite of a written notice having been sent to him. We heard the submissions of the Respondents, who reiterated the position taken by them in the response of the CPIO.
3. The first issue for consideration before us is whether we can provide the relief sought by the Complainant in his complaint under Section 18 of the RTI Act, 2005. In this context, we note that the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi had stated the following in its judgment dated 28.10.2013 on WP(C) No. 6755/2012 in J. K. Mittal Vs. Central Information Commission and Anr. ;
“…. It is, therefore, obligatory for the Commission to decide such a complaint on merit instead of simply directing the CPIO to provide information which the complainant had sought. If the Commission finds that the CPIO had without reasonable cause refused to receive an application for information or had not furnished information within the prescribed time or had given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information, it is required to impose prescribed penalty upon such a CPIO/SPIO, as the case may be. In the cases covered by Subsection (2) of Section 20 of the Act, the Commission is also required to recommend disciplinary action against the concerned CPIO or SPIO, under the service rules applicable to him. ……there can be no dispute that while considering a complaint made under Section 18 of the Act, the Commission cannot direct the concerned CPIO to provide the information which the complainant had sought from him. Such a power can only be exercised when a Second Appeal in terms of Subsection (3) of Section 19 is preferred before the Commissioner.”
4. In view of the above pronouncements of the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, it is clear that we are not in a position to provide the relief sought by the Complainant by way of disclosure of the information sought in his RTI application.
5. The next issue for consideration is whether there is any merit in the complaint. We note that the RTI application was dated 24.8.2013 and the CPIO replied within the stipulated period vide her letter dated 25.9.2013. She provided information on three points and cited a specific section of the RTI Act to deny information on the remaining points. If denial of information by a CPIO citing a specific Section of the RTI Act, were to by itself become a valid ground for invoking Section 18(1)(e) of the RTI Act, every CPIO, who so denies information, would become vulnerable to action under Section 18(1)(e) of the Act. This is clearly not the intention behind Section 18(1)(e). There is nothing to suggest that in this case the CPIO had without reasonable cause given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information. She only discharged her responsibility under the RTI Act to exercise her judgment in giving information on some points and denying it on others under a specific Section of the Act. RTI applicants may disagree with the decisions taken by CPIOs. For that, the Act provides for appeals to the First Appellate Authority and beyond that to this Commission. In view of the foregoing, we see no reasonable ground to initiate any enquiry on the basis of this complaint. It has no merit and is accordingly dismissed.
6. Copies of this order be given free of cost to the parties.
Citation: Shri K. Munikrishnaiah v. Department of Space in File No. CIC/SS/C/2013/000522/SH CIC/SS/C/2013/000570/SH