Recent Cases on RTI Act in India

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June 01, 2018

SC: RTI Fees shall not Exceed Rs. 50/- per Application

In a case taken up by the Supreme Court, the Court has strictly directed that the fees for filling RTI application shall not exceed Rs.50/- and Rs. 5 for photocopying for all Government Authorities.

The Supreme Court’s response came in case filed by Common Cause, whereby the Petitioner had challenged the Allahabad High Court (RTI) Rules, 2006 on the ground that the same was in violation of several provisions of the RTI Act as Rule 4 of the impugned Rules stipulating a fee of Rs. 500/- per application was not in consonance with the scheme underlying RTI Act.

No RTI Query Can Lie With Regard to Judicial Decisions

The Registrar, Supreme Court of India v. R S Misra

In the instant case, the Delhi High Court has rendered an in-depth analysis of RTI applications against any decision passed by the Supreme Court. The Court has also ruled that RTI Act does not prevail over the Supreme Court Rules (SCR).

Facts– In this case, the Respondent was holding the post of Postgraduate Teacher and his services were terminated on allegations of sexual harassment against him. The Respondent challenged his termination before the Central Administrative Tribunal thereafter before the High Court and Supreme Court. However, the Respondent’s challenge was dismissed by all the Forums. Thereafter, the Respondent in 2010 sought information by way of an RTI (Right to Information) application as to why his petition before the Supreme Court was dismissed and in the application, the Respondent stated that the said SLP (Special Leave Petition) had been decided against the principles of natural justice.

The instant writ petition has been preferred by the Registrar of Supreme Court against the decision of the Central Information Commission (CIC), wherein the Commission CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) to provide information

Petitioner’s submission– That access to documents filed on the judicial side can only be obtained through the mechanism of Supreme Court Rules (for short “SCR”) and that the provisions of the RTI Act cannot override the SCR.

Respondent’s reply– That as the SCR and the Right to Information Act, 2005 co-exist, it is the citizens’ prerogative to choose under which mechanism he would like to obtain information. She clarified that as both the laws, i.e. the RTI Act and SCR were consistent, the applicant had the prerogative of choosing the law under which he wanted to obtain information.

Bench’s Verdict

The Delhi High Court in the case took a strong note of the Respondent’s RTI application seeking information relating to Supreme Court’s decision in the case. The Court in this context made the following observations:

  1. That where there is no information to be given or applicant is seeking non-existent information or where the query is inherently absurd or bordering on contempt, the CIC should not have directed the petitioner to supply information.
  2. That a Judge speaks through his judgments or orders passed by him. A Judge cannot be expected to give reasons other than those that have been enumerated in the judgment or order. If any party feels aggrieved by the order/judgment passed by a Judge, the remedy available to such a party is to challenge the same by a legally permissible mode.
  3. That no litigant can be allowed to seek information through an RTI application or a letter on the administrative side as to why and for what reasons the Judge had come to a particular decision or conclusion.
  4. That there is no inherent inconsistency between SCR and RTI Act as both enable the third party to obtain the information on showing a reasonable cause for the same. Since both RTI Act and the SCR aim at dissemination of information, the RTI Act does not prevail over the SCR.
  5. That if any information can be accessed through the mechanism provided under another statute, then the provisions of the RTI Act cannot be resorted to. Neither the Preamble of the RTI Act nor does any other provision of the Act disclose the purport of the RTI Act to provide additional mode for accessing information with the public authorities which has already formulated rules and schemes for making the said information available.
  6. That in the present case, maintaining two parallel machinery: one under SCR and the other under the RTI Act, would clearly lead to duplication of work and unnecessary expenditure, in turn leading to clear wastage of human resources as well as public funds.
  7. That dissemination of information under the SCR is a part of judicial function, exercise of which cannot be taken away by any statute. Further the SCR would be applicable with regard to the judicial functioning of the Supreme Court whereas for the administrative functioning of the Supreme Court, the RTI Act would be applicable.
  8. That the legislature is not competent to take away the judicial powers of the Court by statutory prohibition. The legislature cannot make law to deprive the courts of their legitimate judicial functions conferred under the procedure established.
  9. That the RTI Act does not provide for an appeal against a Supreme Court judgment/order that has attained finality. That queries under the RTI Act would be maintainable to elicit information like how many leaves a Hon’ble Judge takes or with regard to administrative decision a Judge takes. But no query can shall lie with regard to a judicial decision/function.

The entire case can be accessed here.

Court Says Wife Entitled to know Husband’s Salary Irrespective of Exemption u/S. 8 of RTI Act

In a recent case, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh High Court addressed an intriguing concern, whereby the Court stated that irrespective of exemption of information under Section 8 of RTI Act, a wife is entitled to know the details of salary of her husband. In the case the wife was claiming maintenance from the husband wherein the quantum of maintenance being awarded to the wife was disputable on account of amount of maintenance being paid to the wife.

Brief facts of the case: In this case, the Petitioner wife had instituted a case for maintenance and had filed an application under Section 91 of CrPC for a direction to the respondent husband to submit his payslip for determination of proper maintenance amount. Then wife also filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to seek the salary details of the husband.

The Central Information Commission (CIC) in the case asked the Central Public Information Officer of Respondent no. 2 i.e. BSNL to furnish the details of monthly remuneration of the respondent husband.

However, the CIC’s order was challenged by the husband as well as his employer BSNL on the ground that the information sought by the wife was exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act  (information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no 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 appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information).

Thus, the issue that fell for consideration by the High Court was whether the information sought is exempt under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act  or it is covered by Section 4(1)(b)(x) which obliges the public authorities to display on public domain the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees?

The Division Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court while making an order in the favour of wife, made the following observations in the case:

That while dealing with the Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act , we cannot lose sight of the fact that the appellant and the respondent No.1 are husband and wife and as a wife she is entitled to know what remuneration the respondent No.1 is getting.

The entire case can be accessed here.

SC: UPSC Marks can’t be Disclosed Mechanically under RTI

Case name: Union Public Service Commission Etc. v. Angesh Kumar & ors. (Supreme Court, 2018)

In this recent case, the Supreme Court has made following observations in context of disclosure of civil service examinations marks under the RTI:

  • That weighing the need for transparency and accountability on the one hand and requirement of optimum use of fiscal resources and confidentiality of sensitive information on the other, information sought with regard to marks in Civil Services Exam cannot be directed to be furnished mechanically.
  • That furnishing raw marks will cause problems which would not be in public interest. However, if a case is made out where the Court finds that public interest requires furnishing of information, the Court is certainly entitled to so require in a given fact situation.
  • That if rules or practice so require, certainly such rule or practice can be enforced.

Other important cases on the issue which were referred by the Bench in the case are as under:

  • Central Board of Secondary Education and Anr. v. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors.– When trying to ensure that the right to information does not conflict with several other public interests (which includes efficient operations of the Governments, preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information, optimum use of limited fiscal resources, etc.), it is difficult to visualise and enumerate all types of information which require to be exempted from disclosure in public interest.
  • It was also observed in the aforesaid judgment that 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.
  • Prashant Ramesh Chakkarwar v. UPSC– This case enumerated the problems in showing evaluated answer books to candidates which inter alia included disclosing answer books would reveal intermediate stages too, including the so-called ‘raw marks’ which would have negative implications for the integrity of the examination system.

Read more here.

CIC: Pension Payment can’t be denied for Want of Aadhaar Card

Case name: N N Dhumane v. PIO, Department of Posts (CIC, 2018)

The order of CIC in the instant case is a remarkable one as it condemns the act of Department of Posts in denying payment of pension for want of Aadhaar Card. Other key observation made by the CIC in the case was that payment of pension is a matter of life or liberty under the RTI Act and applications relating to payment of Pension shall be disposed by the Public Information Officers within 48 hours.

Read more here.

CIC: RTI Information cannot be denied for Lack of Aadhaar Card

Case name: Vishwas Bhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd. (CIC, 2018)

In this recent case Vishwas Bhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd. taken up by the Chief Information Commission, Munirka, New Delhi (CIC), the CIC was confronted with two centric issues under the Right to Information Act, 2005. One pertaining to word limit in RTI application and the other relating to denial of information on lack of producing identity proof by the Applicant.

The CIC in the case held that the impugned application was not hit by any exception under the Right to Information Act. That the CPIO in the case raised suspicion about the citizenship of the applicant without explaining why he was suspecting. There was nothing to justify his suspicion. That the CPIO failed to justify the denial of information, as he could not site any clause of exception under Section 8 (exemption from disclosure of information) or Section 9 (grounds for rejection to access in certain cases).

Read more here.

Delhi HC Rejects CIC Order Holding Ministers Public Authorities under RTI Act

Case name: Union of India and Anr. v. Central Information Commission and Anr. (CIC, 2017)

The Petitioner in the case challenged CIC’s (Central Information Commission) order, whereby the CIC had declared “the Ministers in the Union Government and all State Governments as ‘public authorities’ under Section 2(h) of Right to Information Act, 2005.

Delhi High Court’s order and observation– The Delhi High Court set aside CIC’s order in the case and opined that the directions issued by the CIC in the case was beyond the scope of CIC and in the facts and circumstances of the case, there was no occasion for the CIC to enter upon the question as to whether a Minister is a “public authority” under Section 2(h) of the Act.

Read more here.

No RTI Query Can Lie With Regard to Judicial Decisions (Delhi High Court, 2017)

Case name: The Registrar, Supreme Court of India v. R S Misra

In the instant case, the Delhi High Court has rendered an in-depth analysis of RTI applications against any decision passed by the Supreme Court. The Court has also ruled that RTI Act does not prevail over the Supreme Court Rules (SCR).

Read more here.

Two Years Wait for RTI Response is Flagrant Violation of RTI Act (CIC, 2017)

In this case of October 2017, the CIC took a strong note of delay in RTI response by the concerned Department. The CIC remarked as under:

Commission takes grave exception to the flagrant violation of the RTI Act by the CPIOs of Cantonment Board, Jabalpur and the ignorance of the present CPIO about the pending RTI Applications from the tenure of her predecessor. It is incumbent upon the present CPIO to deal with all such pending RTI Applications and not wait for the Commission to issue notice of hearing to provide reply to RTI Applicants.

Information can’t be denied on the Ground that File is missing

Case name: Shahzad Singh v. Department of Posts (CIC, 2018)

In the case, the CIC noted that the Respondent Department’s claim that concerned files were are not traceable proves the fact they had it in their possession, which binds them to provide the information by searching the same. The Commission also observed that frequent reference to ‘missing files’ as an excuse to deny the information is a major threat to transparency, accountability and also major reason for violation of Right to Information Act, 2005. Millions of RTI applications might have been rejected by PIOs on this ground during the last 11 years of RTI regime.

With “missing files excuse” being around, it will be futile to talk about implementation of Right to Information Act, 2005. The claim of ‘missing files’ indicates possibility of deliberate destruction of records to hide the corruption, fraud or immoral practices of public servants, which is a crime under Indian Penal Code.

Other cases on the issue:

Om Prakash v. GNCTD– In the case, CIC noted that prima facie, public authority cannot deny the right of the appellant to get an alternative plot, by putting forward an excuse of missing the file. The defense of missing file cannot be accepted even under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The CIC also noted that if the file is really not traceable, it reflects the inefficient and pathetic management of files by the Public Authority. If the file could not be traced in spite of best efforts, it is the duty of the respondent authority to reconstruct the file or develop a mechanism to address the issue raised by the appellant.

Union of India vs. Vishwas Bhamburkar – In this case, the Delhi High Court regarding the plea of the Respondent authority of record being not traceable, has observed that Right to Information Act, 2005 is a progressive legislation aimed at providing the citizens access to the information which before the said Act came into force could not be claimed as a matter of right.

It was also opined that even in the case where it was found that the desired information though available in the record of the government at some point of time, could not be traced despite best efforts made in this regard, the department concerned must necessarily fix the responsibility for the loss of the record and take appropriate departmental action against the officers/officials responsible for loss of the record.

Unless such a course of action is adopted, it would be possible for any department/office, to deny the information which otherwise is not exempted from disclosure, wherever said department/office finds it inconvenient to bring such information into public domain, and that in turn, would necessarily defeat the very objective behind enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005.