January 04, 2018
In this recent case VishwasBhamburkar 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.
Brief Facts: In the case, the Applicant apprehended embezzlement of funds of HUDCO and therefore filed RTI application seeking information about the amounts spent from the coffers of HUDCO on gifts for years 2013 to 2016, renovation of official residence of its Chairman and Managing Director, electricity bills of official residence. The CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) in the case stated that information could not be furnished by them as the Applicant failed to provide proof of identity and proof of address by producing Aadhar Card, Voter’s ID Card or Passport as proof of citizenship.
CIC’s observations and Decision
The CIC in the case condemned the CPIO’s act in not furnishing information to the Applicant and made the following observations in the case:
Denial of Information due to Lack of Identity Proof/Aadhar card
- 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).
- That taking action against a complaint without bearing an identifiable name is different from objecting to the RTI application, which has been properly filed with name, address and identity.
- The CIC in the aforesaid context also made reference to Section 6(2) of RTI Act which says an applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him. With reference to the facts of the present case the CIC observed that the Applicant gave address to which information could have been dispatched. As per law he need not provide any confirmation for his address, name or citizenship.
- That in the instant case not only within the mandatory period of 30 days, but even after that information was not given until the CIC ordered. Thus, deemed refusal of RTI application was proved in this case which would attract the penal proceedings.
- That the CPIO can deny information only under Section 8 and Section 9 of RTI Act. He cannot invent new grounds for denial like lack of Aadhar Card, Voter Id Card, and Passport etc.
- That the onus to prove denial of request was on the CPIO as per Section 19(5) of RTI Act. In the instant case, the CPIO failed to prove that the Applicant was not a citizen as ground for denial.
- That the Right to Information Act, nowhere prohibited ‘person’ from securing the information, or authorized the PIO to demand the proof of citizenship. The RTI Act, 2005 uses expression of Citizen in Section 3, but under Section 6 ((Request for obtaining information) the expression ‘person’ is used. A ‘person’ cannot be denied information on the pretext that he did not produce proof of citizenship.
Can Information be denied if RTI Application is beyond 500 words- Rule 3 of Right to Information Rules, 2012 stated that an RTI application under Section 6 shall be accompanied by a fee of rupees ten and shall ordinarily not contain more than five hundred words…Provided that no application shall be rejected only on the ground that it contains more than five hundred words.
That an RTI application cannot be rejected on this ground (of words limit) alone.
What should PIO do when a lengthy RTI application with more than 500 words?
The CIC stated that in such cases following are the alternatives:
- Examine 500 words to find what applicant substantially wants.
- Provide reasonable assistance to applicant to focus on a particular aspect as per his requirement, reminding him of 500 words limit.
- Give part information and ask him to point out what else he needs reminding him of 500 words limit.
In view of the aforesaid facts and circumstances and denial of request to provide information without any justifiable reason, the CIC imposed a penalty of Rs. 25,000/- on the concerned CPIO.
One of the intrinsic observations made by the CIC in the case was that Denial of information for lack of Aadhaar card will be a serious breach of right, which was guaranteed by the RTI Act and also amounts to harassment of the applicant.
The entire case can be accessed here.