Can the information held in sealed cover be disclosed under RTI?
The appellant filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) act seeking photocopy of recommendation given in sealed cover in Departmental Promotion Committee (DPC), the time taken to decide the petition of the applicant dated 24/12/2009; and the DPC which approved seniority cum fitness basis after which selection on merit basis was applied. The Public Information Officer (PIO) informed that the sealed cover was not opened because the appellant was not completely exonerated, representation is being processed for consideration and that the remaining information is not available in material form.
During the hearing before the Central Information Commission (CIC), the appellant stated that he had not been provided a copy of the recommendation(s) of DPC regarding his promotion which were kept in sealed cover even though the proceedings against him have been concluded. The PIO stated that the appellant had not been fully exonerated and as such the sealed cover had not been opened. The appellant contended that even in cases where disciplinary proceedings did not result in dropping of charges, the sealed cover is required to be opened. On a request by the PIO that he will study the relevant rules and revert thereafter, the commission adjourned the hearing.
During the second hearing before the Central Information Commission (CIC), the PIO referred to CAT ruling dated 25/02/2008 in the matter of Shri Bal Anand vs. UOI to argue that sealed cover is not to be opened at all, if the charge-sheet culminates into a penalty. The order states that in normal course, if there is charge-sheet pending against a person when DPC meets, his name is put in the sealed cover and it can be opened only if ultimately the said person is exonerated of the charge. In case charge-sheet culminates into a penalty then the sealed cover is not to be opened at all and person is to be considered for promotion in the next selection committee. The Commission referred to guidelines for functioning of DPC issued by Government of India, DoPT vide its Memorandum No. 20011/4/92-AIS-II dated 28/03/2000, which inter-alia include procedure to be adopted for sealed cover cases. As per these guidelines - on the conclusion of the disciplinary case the sealed cover shall be opened but its findings shall not be acted upon if a penalty is imposed on the officer. The Commission also referred to its previous order dated 04/02/2011 in file no. CIC/WB/C/2010/000016, 67, 83, 125, 175 & 333-SM. In the said order, the CIC had held that after the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, no public authority can escape disclosure of information by deciding to keep records in sealed cover. Since the RTI Act does not have any provision to exempt information from disclosure merely on the ground that it is in a sealed cover, the public authority cannot choose to deny such information. Therefore, if the desired information is kept in a sealed cover and it is not otherwise covered by any of the exemption provisions, then it must be disclosed after opening the cover. The CIC held that the assessment sheet in a DPC is a crucial document on the basis of which the DPC recommends some people to be fit for promotion and some others to be unfit and should be disclosed, at least, to those considered by the DPC.
View of CIC
The Commission directed the PIO to provide the sought information to the appellant stating that in the matter at hand it is admitted that the disciplinary proceedings have already been concluded and hence we see no reason why the sealed cover cannot be opened and its contents disclosed.
In the post RTI era, the sealed cover proceedings have lost their relevance and should either be ended or some other RTI compatible mechanism be evolved.
Citation: Mr. K. K. Agnihotri v. Ministry of Communication & I.T in File No.CIC/LS/A/2011/000166/BS/0555
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/CIC/654
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission