CIC: Title deed is a registered document indicating the transfer of property, which is a public activity by public authority; This cannot be termed as private information of a third party - CIC: Show cause issued to PIO for imposing penalty under RTI Act
CIC: The Government has a duty to maintain total transparency in the interest of better implementation - CIC: Title deed is a registered document indicating the transfer of property, which is a public activity by public authority. This cannot be termed as private information of a third party - CIC: Denying information about public welfare schemes of the government on the ground of privacy of some other person is sheer abuse of right to privacy by the Government and deliberate violation of RTI Act; show cause issued to the PIO and deemed PIO why maximum penalty should not be imposed against each of them for not providing the information
1. Dr. K. Venkata Rao, appellant submitted as follows: He is a senior citizen and the beneficiary of CGEWHO, Madras Phase-1, project allotment of a dwelling unit of type-C2/17, Kendriya Vihar, Vellappanchavadi, Chennai-600077 in the year 1995, under the registration number MDC 0522; He was working as a Scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation, Trivandrum, Department of Space, Government of India by then; He has sought five-point-information under Section 6 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 with the 2nd Respondent pertaining to the CGEWHO Madras Phase-1 project namely;
i. The list of beneficiaries with their name, address and the office to which they belong/served at the time of allotment of CGEWHO dwelling houses of A, B and C type respectively.
ii. The list of beneficiaries with their name whom have availed the financial loans towards their allotted CGEWHO dwelling houses of A, B and C type respectively from different banks, its name and branch.
iii. The list of beneficiaries with their names, whom have made the Tri-partite agreement in date wise towards their financial loans with different banks for their allotted CGEWHO dwelling houses of B and C type respectively.
iv. The list of beneficiaries with their name, whose title deed of the allotted CGEWHO dwelling house of B and C type respectively were sent to their respective financed banks by CGWEHO in date wise.
v. The list of beneficiaries with their name whom have taken possession of the title deed along with their allotted CGEWHO dwelling houses of B and C type respectively by date wise.
2. He paid an amount of Rs. 50/- by Indian Postal Order; That Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of CGEWHO, who in turn passed the appellant's request to a Link Public Information Officer; The Link P.I.O. has refused to provide the information with the statement that, "information sought may be rejected under Section 8(j) since all bank's information are not to be made public and are not readily available in the system for giving it to any particular bank"; The C.P.I.O. and Link P.I.O. of CGEWHO has rejected/denied providing information as regards to the appellant's request for information by his application dated 26.07.2014; He filed First Appeal under Section 19 (1) of the RTI Act, before the First Appellant Authority (FAA in short), CGEWHO, through an email communication and with a formal copy sent through ordinary post on 20.08.2014; The appellant contended the proviso 8(1) (j) is inapplicable to his case; The request of information was not for any sensitive issues such as, amount of loan borrowed, or its modes of loan repayment etc; The information sought by the appellant is only the names and addresses of those beneficiaries of CGEWHO, and the names and branches of banks from where they availed the financial assistants to purchase their dwelling houses. Moreover the information sought were no longer a confidential matter as on date as the majority of cases had been settled long back in many instances and hence does not involves the invasion of privacy of any individual's right; The P.I.Os. have not made any efforts to obtain the permission from those individuals concerned as well, as per Section 11 of the RTI Act and hence P.I.Os were biased and prejudiced to provide the information; The actions of the P.I.Os were mala fide and prejudiced; Moreover the information sought has a definite bearing to public activity and interest; The P.I.Os should have satisfied for the disclosure of information on larger public interest; Hence the actions of the P.I.Os. were mala fide, arbitrary, irrational and unlawful; Further the statement of the link P.I.O. that the "information are not readily available at the system", itself shows the irresponsibility, non-transference and unaccountability of the P.I.Os of CGEWHO, whom are supposed to maintain the public records for 20 years as per Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005; The essential test of the RTI Act that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or State legislature shall not be denied to any person. Towards it, the appellant had also relied on a judgment of 'Anil Kumar Vs. DoPT case' (CIC Appeal No. 76/IC/(A)/2006) and its verdict; The FAA has substantiated the refusal of information by the C.P.I.O. vide his reply Ref. No. T-308/3 (Vol.5) dated
3. The appellant further submitted that: he had availed the housing loan of Rs. 1,67,157/- on 05.01.1996 as against the sanctioned loan of Rs. 1,75,000/- from HDFC bank; Towards the loan the appellant had signed the Tri-partite agreement with HDFC bank, CGEWHO and self; Hence as per the Tri-partite agreement, the appellant's title deed of the housing property ought to have been submitted to the banker HDFC as a security against the loan taken by the appellant; Whereas the Administrator of CGEWHO (5th Respondent in WP) had never submitted the appellant's title deed to the HDFC bank under the Tri-partite agreement, but instead had delivered the title deed to Mr. S. Gokul Sankar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Tamil Nadu, husband of the 4th Respondent (in WP) G. Nirmala under some illegal transaction; Hence the correct information pertaining to the appellant title deed of the property was not provided by the C.P.I.O. and the link P.I.O. deliberately so far; It is also learnt through certain other vital documents that the C.P.I.O. and FAA of CGEWHO are under constant threat from the G Nirmala as not to divulge any information connected to the delivery of the appellant's title deed to the G Nirmala through her husband (Mr. S. Gokul Sankar), as against the mandatory submission of the original Tri-partite agreement to the HDFC bank; The copy of the legal notice served by Mrs. G. Nirmala, through her Advocate Mr. C. Mani to Mr. N. K. Wadhwa, Ex. Dir (Admn) of CGEWHO; and the reply made by Mr. N. K. Wadhwa to Mrs. G. Nirmal would provide the prima facie evidence for their illegal transaction; Hence the denial/incorrect information to the petitioner as regards to his title deed on several earlier instances against different RTI applications were also willful, mala fide and unlawful.
4. It was brought to notice of the Commission that this appeal was heard by Hon'ble Central Information Commissioner Shri M.A. Khan Yusufi on 31.03.2015, who dismissed saying:
"1. It would be seen here that the appellant, vide his RTI application dated 26.07.2014 sought information from the respondents on five issues. Respondents, vide their response dated 04.08.2014, allegedly denied the required information to the appellant on all five issues. Being aggrieved by the aforesaid response, FA was filed by the appellant on 20.08.2014 before the FAA, who vide his order dated 17.09.2014, upheld the decision of CPIO. Hence, a Second Appeal before this Commission.
2. It is pertinent to mention here that the CPIO, vide his response dated 04.08.2014 denied the required information to the appellant by taking a plea under section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act 2005. Further, learned FAA, vide his order dated 17.09.2014, disposed of the FA by upholding the views of CPIO.
3. The Commission heard the submissions made by respondent, at length. The Commission also perused the case-file thoroughly; specifically, nature of issues raised by the appellant in his RTI application dated 26.07.2014 respondent's response dated 04.08.2014, FAA's order dated 17.09.2014 and also the grounds of memorandum of second appeal.
4. In view of the position above and in the circumstances of the case, the Commission is of the considered view that the plea taken by CPIO under section 8( 1)(j) of the RTI Act 2005 appears to be justified in the eyes of Law. As such, there is no legal infirmity either in CPIO's response or FAA's order. Therefore, the CPIO's response dated 04.08.2014 and FAA's order dated 17.09.2014 are hereby upheld being legally tenable. In view of this, the appellant's second appeal deserves to be dismissed. Therefore, it dismissed.
Apart from above, the appellant's second appeal is also a non-pressed, despite of our due notice to him.
The appeal is dismissed accordingly."
5. The appellant challenged the order of CIC in a Writ Petition before the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi vide W.P.(C) No. 6995/2015 saying the order passed was ex-facie untenable, erroneous, contrary to law and unsustainable in law and is liable to be quashed and set-aside. The Hon'ble High Court of Delhi vide judgment dated 02.02.2017 held that:
"1. The Petitioner impugns order dated 31.03.2015, whereby the appeal filed by the petitioner has been rejected.
2. It is contended that the said order is an ex parte order and the petitioner was not present at the time of hearing.
3. It is contended that the petitioner had received a notice of hearing for 31.03.2015 however, since the petitioner, who was then aged 67 years, because of his health, could not travel from Bangalore to Delhi for personal appearance. The petitioner by email dated 12.03.2015, 22.03.2015 and 26.03.2015, informed the CIC about his inability to travel to Delhi for the hearing on 31.03.2015 and requested the Central Information Commission (CIC) to take up the matter on 31.03.2015 by way of video conferencing.
4. The petitioner submits that earlier also, CIC had acceded to the request and permitted the petitioner to attend the hearing through video conferencing.
5. It is contended that the CIC neither informed the petitioner that his request had been rejected nor adjourned the hearing to the later date and without acceding to the request of the petitioner that he was not well and permitting the petitioner to attend the hearing through Video Conferencing, the CIC passed the impugned order.
6. Perusal of the record shows that the petitioner has made a request to CIC to grant an opportunity of hearing through video conferencing because of his health. The CIC has not acceded to the request and proceeded to pass the impugned order. The impugned order does not even record the factum of the petitioner having requested for video conferencing and merely records that the petitioner who is the appellant before the CIC is not present.
7. In my view, the petitioner has shown sufficient cause for not appearing before the CIC on 31.03.2015 when the matter was listed and has shown that the petitioner had made request before the CIC that the proceeding be taken up by video conferencing. The petitioner has been denied an opportunity of a representation.
8. In view of the above, the impugned order is set aside. The appeal of the petitioner is restored to its original number. The appeal is remitted to the CIC for a fresh consideration.
9. The CIC is directed to expedite the hearing of the appeal filed by the petitioner.
10. The Writ Petition is disposed of in the above terms. There shall be no order as to costs.
11. Dasti under the signatures of the Court master."
Proceedings before CIC on 05.07.2017
6. The appellant claimed that he was denied the opportunity to be personally present or represent through video conferencing before the learned Central Information Commission and the Honorable Delhi High Court remanded the appeal to the Commission for hearing on that ground, for fresh consideration.
7. The CPIO claimed that information demanded was voluminous. He also contended that appellant was asking for files of beneficiaries consisting of title deeds of other persons, which could not be given. However, the CPIO who was attending the proceedings expressed his readiness to offer inspection of file relating to him and provide the certified copies.
8. A perusal of RTI application, other records and hearing the contentions of either side brought out the facts that the appellant was aggrieved by the irregular action of the officer of the concerned department. He is mainly interested in file concerning that allocation, payment of dues and possession. As the appellant was absent during the hearing the learned Commissioner was convinced by the contentions of the PIO for refusal of information. However the serious ground that brought the second appeal back to the CIC was that his request to give time to travel or to represent through video conferencing was not allowed.
9. The contentious issue before the Commission is whether information demanded was personal information. The CPIO should have disclosed the information by adopting the doctrine of severance, i.e., redacting personal information from the other that could be disclosed. It was not done.
10. As far as the welfare schemes are concerned, the Government has a duty to maintain total transparency in the interest of better implementation. If the people easily access the information about eligibilities and benefits of the scheme, the benefits will reach genuine persons and reduce the possibility of corruption. The public authority in such cases shall publish the list of beneficiaries along with eligibility conditions, so that anybody from public can question if any wrong person was given the benefit. The people can point out if there is any suppression, misrepresentation or fraud. The information about the loans obtained by those beneficiaries from banks cannot be their 'private information'. Title deed is a registered document indicating the transfer of property, which is a public activity by public authority. This cannot be termed as private information of a third party. Registration itself means giving notice to public in general, so that people know that such property has been already transferred, which means it could not be further transferred. The registration of property is a compulsory statutory condition under Transfer of Property Act and Registration Act, which basically provide for maintenance of records of transaction and public access to it. Anybody can seek to find encumbrances on any registered immovable property as per those laws. The information sought in this case relates to open applications seeking benefits of government scheme, and grant of those benefits by the public authority, loan from the Banks based on deposit of title deeds, which can never be considered as somebody's private activity. Any information related to such scheme, if disclosed, cannot cause invasion of privacy of any person. Appellant is fighting against irregularities committed in the scheme which affected him. To prevent such irregularities, entire information should be in public domain and every file regarding allotments should be accessed.
Abuse of privacy clause by CPIO
11. Denying information about public welfare schemes of the government on the ground of privacy of some other person is sheer abuse of right to privacy by the Government and deliberate violation of Right to Information, which was guaranteed under a specific statute with a specific exception i.e., S 8(1)(j). This kind of mischief by the PIOs will facilitate the irregularities and corruption. In this case, the appellant contended that information was not given only to suppress the irregularities. Commission finds reason in this contention. By abuse of privacy provision by the CPIO, the appellant was unnecessarily driven to CIC and also to the Delhi High Court.
12. The CPIO should have provided access to appellant to his own house allotment file at the initial stage or public authority should have addressed grievance in the beginning itself to completely solve his problem. The main administrative function of the public authority was ignored and duty under RTI Act was also breached. The allegations of appellant about irregularities in his case need to be probed by the public authority. It has to explain what exactly happened and why action was not taken if there is any mischief by the officers. The Commission directs the officer designated as First Appellate Authority to inquire, find facts of irregularities in the appellant case, and file the report by December 22, 2017.
13. The Commission directs the respondent authority to facilitate inspection of relevant files and provide certified copies of the selected documents to appellant, especially relating to the file concerning house allotted to him, besides the list of beneficiaries, minus personal addresses, free of cost, within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order.
14. The Commission directs (a) the CPIO and link CPIO to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed against each of them for not providing the information, and the Commission considers Mr N K Wadhwa Ex Director Administration as deemed PIO and direct him to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed against him for obstructing the information to appellant, and (b) directs the public authority to explain why it should not be ordered to pay compensation to the appellant for the reasons explained above, before December 22, 2017. The appeal is posted for compliance and penal proceedings, to December 22, 2017.
(M. Sridhar Acharyulu)
Central Information Commissioner
Citation: Dr. K. Venkata Rao v. Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation in CIC/KY/A/2014/901399, Decided On: 17.11.2017