It is evident that the Respondent Public Authority had transferred the RTI queries raised by the Complainant to the appropriate Public Authority. As regards the use of CPGRAMs for transfer of RTI queries to the concerned Public Authority, the suggestion was noted for implementation by the Respondent. The Commission noted that the original RTI application was returned by the Public Authority merely on the basis of the RTI Fee having been furnished in favour of the ‘Accounts Officer’ as stipulated in the OM No. F.10/9/2008-IR issued by DoP&T dated 05.12.2008, instead of DDO, D/o Public Enterprises. This highlights the anomaly in the procedures followed in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. Therefore, there needs to be an immediate remedial action in respect of the confusion thus created as a result of the procedural lacunae resulting in RTI applications getting stuck in such administrative web. Therefore, the Commission felt that DoP&T and Department of Posts necessarily need to coordinate and initiate steps to introduce RTI stamps or numbered RTI coupons to eliminate prevailing ambiguity with regard to Rule 06 of the RTI Rules, 2012, on the mode of payment of RTI Fee keeping in view the experience in handling similar issues on a day to day basis. The suggestion made by the Complainant therefore, merits a favourable and sympathetic consideration.
Full Text of the CIC Order is as follows:-
The Complainant vide his RTI application sought information on 14 points regarding the correspondence/ documents/ file noting on the action taken on each aspect of his submission dated 28.06.2016 made to the CPIO, Department of Public Enterprises, list of panellist/ guest speakers/ coordinators etc in the public enterprises, information on holding consultative/ educative workshops in public enterprises, information on the action taken against co- ordinator Pankaj Sahwani, action taken on his letter dated 07.05.2016 addressed to Engineering Projects (India) Ltd., file noting on the movement of the RTI petition and other issues related thereto.
The CPIO vide its letter dated 10.08.2016 informed the Complainant to submit the requisite fee in favour of DDO, Department of Public Enterprise although, the Fee had been submitted in the name of Accounts Officer in accordance with the DoP&T Circular dated 05.12.2008. Dissatisfied by the response of the CPIO, the Complainant approached the Commission.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Complainant: Mr. Subhash Chandra Agrawal (M: 9810033711);
Respondent: Ms. Kalyani Mishra, Director & CPIO, Dept. Of Public Enterprises, New Delhi (M: 9810858309);
The Appellant reiterated the contents of his Second Appeal and stated that his IPO in the name of “Accounts officer” as per the DoP&T circular Number F.10/9/2008-IR dated 05.12.2008 was enclosed with his RTI Application dated 08.08.2016 but the Respondent erroneously vide its letter dated 10.08.2016 declined to accept the IPO and required from the Complainant to furnish the RTI Fee in favour of the “DDO, Department of Public Enterprise”, blatantly violating the circulars issued by DoP&T and the Rule 06 of the RTI Rules, 2012. He further referred to the OM issued by the DoP&T in F.10/9/2008-IR dated 05.12.2008, wherein it was mentioned that the refusal to accept an RTI application on the ground that the demand draft/IPO submitted by the Applicant had been drawn in the name of the A/c officer may tantamount to refusal to accept the RTI application. He also referred to the Hon’ble Delhi High Court decision in W.P(C) 4761/2016 wherein it was held that the technical approach undertaken by the Public Authorities for not filing the RTI application in a prescribed form and with the RTI fees could not be allowed in the way of substantial justice. He further informed that only partial information had been provided to him and requested the Commission to convert his present Complaint into an Appeal. The Appellant took strong objection to the transfer to his RTI application to different Departments under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act, 2005 without actually furnishing the information.
The Respondent arrived late at the Hearing. In reply to the contentions made by the Complainant, the Respondent submitted that that IPO enclosed with the RTI application dated 08.08.2016 was denied since the Respondent Public Authority did not have a post of Accounts Officer, therefore the Complainant was requested to submit another IPO in the name of DDO vide letter dated 10.08.2016. The Appellant vehemently contested the submission made by Respondent in this regard and stated that refusal to accept the IPO enclosed with the RTI Application amounts to deemed denial of information to the RTI applicant as enunciated in the aforesaid OM issued by the DoP&T and the procedure laid down by DoP&T GOI in its OM dated 06.10.2015. The Respondent submitted that suitable replies vide letters dated 23.08.2016, 16.09.2016, 06.09.2016 and 09.09.2016 in a time bound manner had been provided to the Complainant on the RTI application filed with the correct IPO dated 13.08.2016.
The Appellant raised objection on the procedure being followed for redressal of grievances and dissemination of information through CPGRAMS which was contrary to the laid down procedure established by the Government in this regard. It was emphasised that the RTI queries could have been transferred to the concerned Public Authority electronically without waiting for formal RTI application but the Respondent Authority refused to do so. A quick digital transfer of the queries would have enabled and facilitated the flow of information which otherwise got delayed due to procedural lapses. The Respondent submitted that it did not possess a mechanism for transferring the RTI application to a different Department through this System. It was further explained that the queries received through CPGRAM were dealt with appropriately by a Grievance Redressal Officer and that she was representing the RTI Cell of the Respondent Authority and therefore not authorised to answer queries of the Complainant pertaining to CPGRAM methodology. The Complainant alleged that the Respondent was specified nodal authority in the CPGRAM system as well but appeared to be ignorant of the procedure followed by their Ministry in such matters. To shorten the procedure for flow of information, the Complainant desired that the information on his queries directed to DPE and Delhi Police be furnished at the earliest as already enough time had elapsed for seeking the required information.
With regard to transfer of RTI applications under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act,2005, the Commission referred to the Honourable Delhi High Court decision 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 wherein it was led as under:
“6. Request for obtaining information.– xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx
(3) Where an application is made to a public authority requesting for an information,–
(i) which is held by another public authority; or
(ii) the subject matter of which is more closely connected with the functions of another public authority, the public authority, to which such application is made, shall transfer the application or such part of it as may be appropriate to that other public authority and inform the applicant immediately about such transfer: Provided that the transfer of an application pursuant to this subsection shall be made as soon as practicable but in no case later than five days from the date of receipt of the application.”
“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.”
Needless to add that the Respondent had merely followed the bureaucratic procedure in dealing with the subject matter rather than acting as an enabler and facilitator in addressing the issue in hand.
The Commission noted the complaint filed by the Complainant before the Commission wherein the Complainant had pressed for penal action against the Respondent under Section 20 of the RTI Act, 2005 and had also desired compensation under Section 19(8)(b) of the RTI Act, 2005 for mental agony, man hours, stationary, conveyance etc. in addition to seeking substantive information.
With regard to the imposition of penalty on the CPIO/PIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act, 2005, the Commission took note of the ruling of Honourable Delhi High Court in W.P.(C) 11271/2009 Registrar of Companies & Ors v. Dharmendra Kumar Garg & Anr. (delivered on: 01.06.2012) wherein it was held:
“61. Even if it were to be assumed for the sake of argument, that the view taken by the learned Central Information Commissioner in the impugned order was correct, and that the PIOs were obliged to provide the information, which was otherwise retrievable by the querist by resort to Section 610 of the Companies Act, it could not be said that the information had been withheld malafide or deliberately without any reasonable cause. It can happen that the PIO may genuinely and bonafidely entertain the belief and hold the view that the information sought by the querist cannot be provided for one or the other reasons. Merely because the CIC eventually finds that the view taken by the PIO was not correct, it cannot automatically lead to issuance of a show cause notice under Section 20 of the RTI Act and the imposition of penalty. The legislature has cautiously provided that only in cases of malafides or unreasonable conduct, i.e., where the PIO, without reasonable cause refuses to receive the application, or provide the information, or knowingly gives incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroys the information, that the personal penalty on the PIO can be imposed. This was certainly not one such case. If the CIC starts imposing penalty on the PIOs in every other case, without any justification, it would instill a sense of constant apprehension in those functioning as PIOs in the public authorities, and would put undue pressure on them. They would not be able to fulfil their statutory duties under the RTI Act with an independent mind and with objectivity. Such consequences would not auger well for the future development and growth of the regime that the RTI Act seeks to bring in, and may lead to skewed and imbalanced decisions by the PIOs Appellate Authorities and the CIC. It may even lead to unreasonable and absurd orders and bring the institutions created by the RTI Act in disrepute.”
Similarly, the following observation of the Honourable Delhi High Court in Bhagat Singh v. CIC & Ors. WP(C) 3114/2007 are pertinent in this matter:
“17. This Court takes a serious note of the two year delay in releasing information, the lack of adequate reasoning in the orders of the Public Information Officer and the Appellate Authority and the lack of application of mind in relation to the nature of information sought. The materials on record clearly show the lackadaisical approach of the second and third respondent in releasing the information sought. However, the Petitioner has not been able to demonstrate that they malafidely denied the information sought. Therefore, a direction to the Central Information Commission to initiate action under Section 20 of the Act, cannot be issued.”
Furthermore, the High Court of Delhi in the decision of Col. Rajendra Singh v. Central Information Commission and Anr. WP (C) 5469 of 2008 dated 20.03.2009 had held as under:
“Section 20, no doubt empowers the CIC to take penal action and direct payment of such compensation or penalty as is warranted. Yet the Commission has to be satisfied that the delay occurred was without reasonable cause or the request was denied malafidely.
……The preceding discussion shows that at least in the opinion of this Court, there are no allegations to establish that the information was withheld malafide or unduly delayed so as to lead to an inference that petitioner was responsible for unreasonably withholding it.”
The Complainant was not able to contest the submission of the Respondent or to substantiate his claims further regarding malafide denial of information by the Respondent or for withholding it without any reasonable cause.
Keeping in view the facts of the case and submissions made by both the parties, it is evident that the Respondent Public Authority had transferred the RTI queries raised by the Complainant to the appropriate Public Authority. As regards the use of CPGRAMs for transfer of RTI queries to the concerned Public Authority, the suggestion was noted for implementation by the Respondent. The Commission noted that the original RTI application was returned by the Public Authority merely on the basis of the RTI Fee having been furnished in favour of the ‘Accounts Officer’ as stipulated in the OM No. F.10/9/2008-IR issued by DoP&T dated 05.12.2008, instead of DDO, D/o Public Enterprises. This highlights the anomaly in the procedures followed in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. Therefore, there needs to be an immediate remedial action in respect of the confusion thus created as a result of the procedural lacunae resulting in RTI applications getting stuck in such administrative web. Therefore, the Commission felt that DoP&T and Department of Posts necessarily need to coordinate and initiate steps to introduce RTI stamps or numbered RTI coupons to eliminate prevailing ambiguity with regard to Rule 06 of the RTI Rules, 2012, on the mode of payment of RTI Fee keeping in view the experience in handling similar issues on a day to day basis. The suggestion made by the Complainant therefore, merits a favourable and sympathetic consideration.
On the issue of Police complaint filed by the Complainant before the local Police Authorities and in the light of decisions by the Honourable Court with respect to Section 6(3) of the RTI Act, 2005, the Commission instructs the Nodal Officer (RTI Cell), Ministry of Home Affairs, North Block, New Delhi to provide the current status pertaining to the query mentioned in the instant RTI application, to the Appellant, under intimation to the Commission, within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order. This instruction is given due to the inordinate delay in answering the RTI query pertaining to the subject matter under consideration and to facilitate the Complainant in getting adequate redressal.
The Complaint stands disposed with above direction.