Bombay HC: No penalty for inability to do the impossible
Tushar Mandlekar, a lawyer, had filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act on July 7, 2009, with Public Information Officer (PIO) and Deputy Commissioner of Transport, Mumbai, seeking detailed information regarding duty imposed on imported vehicles. The PIO wrote a letter dated 20.8.2009 which was posted on 24.8.2009 to the applicant asking him to pay an amount of Rs. 3,310/- for the information sought by the applicant, the documents of which ran into nearly 3419 pages. The applicant, Mandlekar, filed an appeal under Section 19(1) Any person who, does not receive a decision within the time specified in sub¬section (1) or clause (a) of sub-section (3) of section 7, or is aggrieved by a decision of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, may within thirty days from the expiry of such period or from the receipt of such a decision prefer an appeal to such officer who is senior in rank to the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer as the case may be, in each public authority: Provided that such officer may admit the appeal after the expiry of the period of thirty days if he or she is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal in time. of RTI Act with the First Appellate Authority (FAA) contending that the information was not provided to him within stipulated period. The appeal was allowed and FAA directed the PIO to furnish the information free of costs to the applicant. The applicant filed a second appeal with the State Information Commission (SIC) but the same was dismissed. The applicant filed Writ Petition No.3818/2010, challenging the order of the SIC and seeking a direction to the PIO to furnish the desired information free of costs as per the original application. A further direction to pay a penalty of Rs. 25,000/- under the provisions of Section 20 of the RTI Act was also sought. The learned single member bench of the High Court of Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari partly allowed the writ petition by the judgment dated 26.11.2010 and directed the appellants to supply the information to the respondent free of costs within a period of ten days. The learned Single Judge also imposed costs of Rs. 2,000/- on the appellants.
In a LPA filed before a division bench of High Court, it was pleaded on behalf of the PIO that:
- the information sought by the applicant ran into almost 3419 pages and it was humanly impossible for the PIO to provide the information to the respondent within a period of 30 days.
- it is not a case where the appellants had mala-fidely delayed the supply of the information to the respondent within a period of 30 days.
- though it is necessary for the Public Information Officer to supply the information within a period of 30 days, the law would not compel a party to do that what is impossible. It was impossible for the PIO to furnish the information running into 3419 pages within a period of 30 days.
- the period of 30 days expired on 23.8.2009 and the letter asking the applicant to pay the necessary charges for supplying the information was issued on the very next day on 24.8.2009.
The RTI applicant submitted before the applicant that:
- The provisions of Sections 7 and 20 of the RTI Act were referred to point out that it was necessary for the Public Information Officer (PIO) to supply the information within a period of 30 days, failing which the PIO was liable to supply the same to the respondent free of costs and was also liable to pay penalty for each day till the date of supply of the information.
- The learned Single Judge ought to have imposed penalty of Rs. 25,000/- on the PIO and since the same was not imposed, he had filed a letters patent appeal, which has been rejected.
A division bench of Justices Vasanti Naik and Arun Chaudhari of the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court heard the LPA and observed that:
- It appears that the application was not made with a bona fide intention and the respondent had misused the provisions of the Act by seeking the information.
- Instead of seeking information on some specific issues, the respondent sought general information on scores of matters. The application is vague and the application does not make it clear to the Information Officer as to what information is actually sought by the respondent from the Officer.
- The bench asked the RTI applicant as to what action did he take in pursuance of the information after it's supply and it was replied by the applicant that nothing was done on the basis of the information supplied as there was some delay in supplying the information.
The bench remarked that “It is really surprising that thousands of documents are being sought by the respondent from the authorities and none of the documents is admittedly brought into use. We are clearly of the view in the aforesaid backdrop that the application was filed with a mala fide intention and with a view to abuse the process of law”.
The bench further held that “The principle of lex non cogit ad impossibilia is clearly applicable to the facts of the case. Law does not compel a person to do that what is impossible”.
Decision of the Bench
The bench ruled that it was impossible for the PIO to supply the information which ran into thousands of pages to the applicant within a period of 30 days, as those pages were not readily available with him on the day the application was filed and the Officers were required to search and collect the information, which was required to be supplied to the applicant. The bench observed that the information sought by the RTI applicant was so general and extensive that it could not have been found out within a couple of days or even within a fortnight in spite of the best efforts of half a dozen persons working in that direction. The bench allowed the LPA.
[Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court in The State Information Commissioner, Mr. Satish Sahasrabuddhe and Mr. A.N. Bhalchandra Vs. Tushar Dhananjay Mandlekar in LPA NO.276/2012 in WP NO.3818/2010 (D)]
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/HC/591
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission