Can inspection under RTI be denied if the files are with higher authorities?
The appellant filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) seeking information relating to the vacancy position in the CIC and the steps taken by the government to fill up those vacancies. He also wanted to know the staff strength and the vacancies relating to the staff at CIC and to inspect the relevant files. The Public Information Officer (PIO) provided part information and allowed inspection of some files. The appellant claimed that he had inspected only part of the files and had not completed the inspection due to constraints of time. He desired to inspect the remaining files but the PIO intimated him that the relevant files were under submission to higher authorities and therefore the information could be provided only after the files were returned to the relevant section.
During the hearing before the Central Information Commission (CIC), the appellant submitted that either the files should have been called back by the PIO to show to him or his RTI request could have been transferred to those higher authorities with intimation to him so that he could have inspected the files wherever they were pending. He also argued that considerable delay was caused and the PIO should be penalised for the delay. The respondent submitted that the file was shown to the appellant and he was not sure why the appellant failed to inspect the file completely. He also argued that it would be impractical and not possible to summon files back from higher authorities only to show to the information seekers for their inspection and this would render decision making difficult if not impossible. The respondent offered to show the remaining files to the appellant for inspection now on any appointed date. The Commission observed that both the sets of information sought by the appellant are primarily statistical in nature and the PIO should have clearly mentioned about the number of vacancies as on the reference dates mentioned by the appellant. The Commission also observed that the time taken for inspecting a file would be mostly dependent on the volume and the content of the file and that no public authority can allow an unreasonably long time for inspection of government files as that would adversely affect the efficiency.
View of CIC
The Commission held that if there are files which clearly deal with both the sought subjects (as on the reference dates) and have not been inspected by the appellant due to whatever reason, those must be shown to the appellant for inspection. The CIC further ruled that the appellant is not entitled to see any other file except exactly those which deal with both the subjects and with reference to the dates mentioned by him. The CIC noted that the relevant files were under submission over a long period of time as they had been put up to the Secretary of the Department and the Minister of State and in one case to the Cabinet Secretariat. The CIC observed that the PIO has to strike a balance in all such cases and that the submission of any file to higher authorities cannot be an alibi for not allowing the information seeker access to information. As long as this principle is observed the government business will not be affected and the citizen will not be inconvenienced. The Commission closed the issue of delay and the demand of fixing liability of the PIO for any alleged delay observing that he did not intentionally avoided showing the files.
Citation: Mr. R K Jain v. Department of Personnel and Training in File No. CIC/SM/A/2012/000489
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/CIC/852
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission