Mr. Radha Raman Tripathy Vs CPIO & Jt. Commissioner of Income Tax (Central Information Commission)
The Complainant vide his RTI application sought information on two points with respect to JCIT, Circle- 3, Bokaro and desired details regarding Income Tax Budget Target fixed by JCIT Range- 3, Bokaro for the Financial Year 2015-2016 and Tax Collected during the Financial Year 2015-16.
The CPIO and Jt. Commissioner of Income Tax, vide its letter dated 05.04.2016, denied information under section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act, 2005 claiming that no larger public interest would be served with the disclosure of information. Dissatisfied by the response of the CPIO, the Complainant approached the Commission.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Complainant: Mr. Radha Raman Tripathy (M:7738263003) through VC;
Respondent: Mr. Sanjiv Kumar Roy, Joint Commissioner of Income Tax (M: 8902198358) through VC;
The Complainant reiterated the contents of his RTI application and stated that no information had been supplied to him. Instead, he took strong objection to the nature of reply furnished by the Respondent CPIO vide his letter dated 05.04.2016 wherein other than giving details of the information sought, he had enumerated the personal details of the information seeker and the nature of RTI applications filed by him over a period of time. In the last paragraph information was denied under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005. On perusal of the contents of RTI application filed by the Complainant and the reply provided by the CPIO, it is evident that the respondent had not properly examined the nature of RTI queries raised by the Complainant and the reply reflected personal acrimony between the two personalities. It appears to be an attempt to ridicule and humiliate the Complainant rather than facilitating flow of information. It is to be understood that the RTI Act, 2005 was promulgated essentially with the purpose to be more progressive, participatory and meaningful for smoother flow and greater access to information. The main objective was to ensure maximum disclosure and minimum exemptions consistent with the constitutional provisions and effective mechanism for access of information disclosure by the public authority. It was the endeavor of the writers of the Act to have an informed citizenry and ensure transparency of information vital to its functioning and to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. The definition of information had been given under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005 which is reproduced below:
“information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, report, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.”
In the aforesaid case, it is evident that the reply furnished by the Respondent defeats the tenets of the fundamental objectives of the Act itself. It is indeed unfortunate that the CPIO without application of mind provided replies not commensurate with the basic queries raised by the Complainant. On being queried during the hearing, the Respondent confirmed that the nature of information sought is usually provided in answer to Parliament Questions and that it does not fall within the definition of Third Party. It was explained that the reply sent to the Complainant was the view held by his predecessor and that he had no comments to offer.
The Commission took note of the proviso to Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005 wherein it has been stated that “..the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State legislature shall not be denied to any person…”
In this context, the Commission drew reference to The Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court decision in Civil Writ Petition No.1338 of 2011 ( M/s Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. V. The Central Information Commission and others) (Date of Decision: 24.01.2011) wherein it was held as under:
18. “In the same sequence, proviso to Section 8 of the Act envisaged that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or the State Legislature, shall not be denied to any person.
19. A co-joint reading of the aforesaid provisions will leave no manner of doubt that every information is not exempted. Only those informations, pertaining to commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, the information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information and 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 authorities are satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information, are exempted and not otherwise.
20…. Moreover, the CIC was satisfied that larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information. Since the information sought cannot be denied to the Parliament or the State Legislature, so, the same cannot also be denied to respondent No.2, as contemplated in the proviso to section 8 of the Act.”
Needless to add, the Respondent misunderstood the information sought by the RTI applicant and committed willful wrongdoing by providing a reply not in sync with the queries raised by the Complainant.
The Commission instructs the respondent to convene periodic conferences/seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of its duties and responsibilities.
The Commission observed that there is complete negligence and laxity in the public authority in dealing with the RTI applications. It is abundantly clear that such matters are being ignored and set aside without application of mind which reflects disrespect towards the RTI Act, 2005 itself. The Commission expressed its displeasure on the casual and callous approach adopted by the respondent in responding to the RTI application. It was felt that the conduct of respondent was against the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 which was enacted to ensure greater transparency and effective access to the information.
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties, it is evident that incorrect, ambiguous and evasive reply had been provided by the Respondent in the matter, which is a grave violation of the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. The Commission, instructs the then CPIO (Mr. P.K. Mondal) now posted at Income Tax Training Institute, Hazaribagh, O/o the Commissioner of Income Tax, Aayakar Bhawan, Hazaribagh – 852301, Jharkhand to showcause why action should not be taken under the provisions of the Act for this misconduct and negligence. The Commission therefore, directs the respondent to:
1- explain why penal action should not be taken as per Section 20(1) of the RTI Act, 2005, within 20 days;
from the date of receipt of this order.
The Complaint stands disposed with the above direction.