Appellant’s request for postponement of hearing, made through his friend during the hearing, left the CIC no time to the slot to some other appeal - CIC: Postponement of the hearing at the was not considered desirable and the matter was heard exparte
These files contain appeals in respect of the RTI applications dated 13.12.2013 and 4.5.2014, filed by the Appellant, seeking information on various issues. Not satisfied with the response of the Respondents, he has approached the CIC in second appeal in both the cases.
2. The Appellant was not present during the hearing. Instead one Shri Ashok Pandya, who described himself as a friend of the Appellant, was present at the NIC Studio, Ahmedabad. He stated that the Appellant has been abroad since 14.5.2015 and has requested for postponement of the hearing on the above appeals. On being asked whether he was in a position to make submissions on behalf of the Appellant, Shri Ashok Pandya replied in the negative. In the above context, we note that the Registry had sent a notice dated 10.6.2015 for today’s hearing to the Appellant. The very fact that he sent Shri Ashok Pandya to pray for postponement of the hearing establishes that he received the above notice, sent well in time. However, instead of informing the Commission in time to postpone the hearing, he chose to do so during the hearing through Shri Pandya. The Commission had made arrangements for the appearance of the Appellant at the NIC Studio, Ahmedabad to make his submissions through videoconferencing. Moreover, the listing of his two appeals deprived two other Appellants of the chance of being heard by the Commission today. The Appellant’s request for postponement, made through Shri Pandya during the hearing, left the Commission no time to slot some other appeals during the same time. Therefore, postponement of the hearing at the very last minute would have resulted in wastage of time of the Commission and of the Respondents, who were present. In view of the foregoing, it was not considered desirable to postpone the hearing and the matter was heard exparte.
3. In the RTI application dated 13.12.2013 (File No. CIC/SH/A/2014/001070), the Appellant had sought information under twenty three points. The CPIO responded on 10.1.2014 and stated that he had sought information on numerous matters of diverse nature, related to several branches and other administrative offices of the erstwhile Gujarat operations zone and the present North Gujarat zone and that collection of this information would entail considerable effort on the part of the bank. In his order dated 4.3.2014, disposing of the first appeal dated 2.2.2014, the FAA stated that the information demanded being too voluminous, its collection from various sources would result in diversion of bank’s resources for a purpose other than its core activity. He further stated that some of the information related to third parties and its disclosure would result in unwarranted invasion of the privacy of such parties. The Respondents reiterated the above replies during the hearing and stated that the Gujarat zonal office looks after around five hundred branches and collection of all the information sought by the Appellant would disproportionately divert the resources of the bank from its day to day work.
4. We have considered the records and the submissions made by the Respondents before us. In his second appeal to the Commission, the Appellant has alleged large scale malpractices and fraud within the bank and prayed for provision of the information sought by him. It is seen from the RTI application that information was sought regarding names of all the AGMs and DGMs of all regions in North Gujarat zone, the logbooks maintained by the official drivers, guidelines for providing the cars to the above officers, information regarding the bank’s and private drivers provided to the above executives, details regarding the zonal audit committee meetings for the period 1.4.2013 till the date of the RTI application, details of expenditure incurred, “minutes books” of the meetings, bank’s guidelines on petrol bills for executives, claim of transportation bills, claim of dependents under various heads, guidelines related to monthly petrol bill paid to various executives, list of officers who reported to adjoining regions within the Gujarat operations (for the last four years), transportation bills claimed by the concerned executives, guidelines in relation to the employees conclave and HRM conclave, gifts purchased for Gujarat operations, utilisation of the money meant for incentives at the Usmapura branch, some letters written by the Appellant regarding awards / incentives, irregularity during the tenure of a Manager, expenses incurred in connection with some executives attending office on Sundays, departure timings of employees made to sit late, copy of muster roll for the last six months, all gifts purchased for the regional offices, provision of mid day meal at bank’s cost, availability of an employee during the last three years at the Gandhi Road Branch during office hours, information regarding CVC guidelines regarding rotation carried out during the last two years, the HRM department favouring certain unions, while victimizing others and copy of an investigation report. From the above, it is evident that the RTI application lacks any clear focus and the Appellant has sought information on a large number of disparate issues. We agree with the Respondents that collection of information on all the points would disproportionately divert their resources from their day to day work. The Appellant’s allegation regarding large scale malpractices does not justify such diversion of resources. In the above context, we also note the following observation of the Supreme Court in Central Board of Secondary Education and Anr. Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors.:
“The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability. The provisions of RTI Act should be enforced strictly and all efforts should be made to bring to light the necessary information under clause (b) of section 4(1) of the Act which relates to securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities and in discouraging corruption. But in regard to other information,(that is information other than those enumerated in section 4(1)(b) Every public authority shall publish within one hundred and twenty days from the enactment of this Act,- (i) the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties; (ii) the powers and duties of its officers and employees; (iii) the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability; (iv) the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions; (v) the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions; (vi) a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control; (vii) the particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof; (viii) a statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advice, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes of such meetings are accessible for public; (ix) a directory of its officers and employees; (x) the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations; (xi) the budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made; (xii) the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes; (xiii) particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it; (xiv) details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form; (xv) the particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use; (xvi) the names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers; (xvii) such other information as may be prescribed and thereafter update these publications every year; and (c) of the Act), equal importance and emphasis are given to other public interests (like confidentiality of sensitive information, fidelity and fiduciary relationships, efficient operation of governments, etc.). Indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under 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 nonproductive work of collecting and furnishing information. The Act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquility and harmony among its citizens. Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty. The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties. The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees of public authorities prioritising ‘information furnishing’, at the cost of their normal and regular duties.”
In view of the foregoing, we would refrain from directing the Respondents to provide any information in response to the RTI application dated 13.12.2013.
5. Regarding the RTI application dated 4.5.2014 (File No. CIC/SH/A/2014/002051), the Respondents reiterated the CPIO’s reply. With regard to the directive contained in the FAA’s order dated 17.7.2014 to provide copies of the communications exchanged between the bank and the IBA, in response to point No. (i) of the RTI application, the Respondents submitted that the CPIO checked the position again with the HR Department and informed the Appellant vide his letter dated 4.8.2014 that the circular dated 1.4.2014 was issued based on the discussions held at industrial level and pending revised guidelines / clarifications to be issued by the IBA. However, we note that in the letter dated 4.8.2014, the CPIO has not stated categorically whether any correspondence between the bank and the IBA on the issue is available on the records of the bank or not. He is directed to check the position once again and give a clear reply on this issue to the Appellant. At point No. (ii) of the RTI application, the Appellant wanted to know the reason for mentioning in the circular that no past cases would be revisited. The CPIO is directed to provide any information in this regard that may be available on the relevant records of the bank. In case, no information is available on the records in response to this specific query, the CPIO should inform the Appellant accordingly. With regard to point No. (iii), the Respondents stated that the Appellant has been sending various representations on the issue and the last one dated 13.5.2013 sent by him was responded to by the DGM on 20.6.2013. Having perused the records, we direct the CPIO to provide information to the Appellant regarding the action taken on his letters dated 1.9.2012, 22.10.2012, 1.10.2012 and 16.10.2012, mentioned in point No. (iii). With regard to point No. (iv), it is seen that the CPIO clearly stated in his reply dated 30.5.2014 that the guidelines given in the circular dated 1.6.1998 were in vogue. We see no ground to interfere with this reply of the CPIO. With regard to point No. (v), we direct the CPIO to provide the Appellant a certified copy of the administrative guidelines referred to in his response dated 30.5.2014. The CPIO should comply with our above directives within thirty days of the receipt of this order, under intimation to the Commission. The information should be provided free of cost.
6. With the above directions and observations, the two appeals are disposed of.
7. Copies of this order be given free of cost to the parties.
Citation: Shri Pankesh M. Patel v. Bank of Baroda in File No. CIC/SH/A/2014/001070 File No. CIC/SH/A/2014/002051