CIC: The CESTAT is advised to re-examine the methodology by which the RTI applications are dealt with in their office & evolve a robust mechanism for their quick disposal; Convene a periodic conference to sensitize the concerned officials about RTI Act
O R D E R
The Complainant vide his RTI application sought information on 02 points (A to B) regarding inspection of records of Appeal relating to Rochees Watches Pvt. Ltd., Ishwar Das Moolrajani, Hargun Das Nebhnani, etc, copies of Computerised Report from CESTAT Case Information System also containing details of Case History, Application History, Appeal/ Application details, etc. with Diary No. and Impugned Order details as available on CESTAT Database for each of the above cases, etc.
The CPIO vide its letter dated 15.09.2016, forwarded the RTI application to DR (Customs) and AR (Excise) u/s 5 (4) and 5(5) of the RTI Act, 2005 to provide information/ inspection on or before 30.09.2016 directly to the Complainant. Dissatisfied by the response of the CPIO, the Complainant approached the FAA. Subsequently, the CPIO vide its letter dated 08.12.2016 provided 01 page of information received from AR (Excise) to the Complainant. The order of the FAA, if any, is not available on the record of the Commission.
The matter was earlier scheduled for hearing on 14.11.2017. However, due to the shifting of the CIC office and renovation being undertaken in the premises, the Dy. registrar, vide its notice dated 14.11.2017 rescheduled the hearing on 30.11.2017.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Complainant: Mr. R.K. Jain;
Respondent: Mr. V. P. Pandey, CPIO & Assistant Registrar, CESTAT, New Delhi and Mr. Mohinder Singh, Deputy Registrar;
The Complainant reiterated the contents of his RTI application and stated that complete and correct information had not been provided to him initially despite reminders. Updating the Commission with regard to the orders issued by the FAA on 16.01.2017, it was submitted that the FAA had ordered inspection on point A(xi) and to provide copies of recorded notings, if available at Delhi else it may be transferred to the relevant place within 04 weeks. The Complainant contended that invariably in all the cases dealt with by CESTAT, Delhi, the information is invariably delayed more so, after the Appeal is filed or a Complaint is made to the CIC against deemed refusal. It was argued that this practice was in the nature of normal-norm followed by the Respondent Public Authority and that there was complete disrespect and disregard to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. In the instant case the Complaint was filed on 19.12.2016, whereas the information was provided on 21.12.2016 i.e. after filing of Complaint with the Commission. Responding to the issues raised by the Complainant, it was explained that the Complainant had been filing too many RTI applications and that the Administrative Machinery in the Public Authority was completely engaged in tracing variety of papers pertaining to the information sought which was a humongous task causing disproportionate diversion of public resources. It was submitted that there had never been any malafide intention on their part to deny information and that they had most sincerely dealt with each application in letter and spirit despite pressure of administrative work. The Complainant however, submitted before the Commission during the hearing that he was not keen to press the matter further except to sensitize the CPIO about his duties and responsibilities to be discharged under the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.
In its written submission dated 10.11.2017, Shri V.P. Pandey, CPIO, CESTAT, New Delhi stated that the RTI application dated 14.09.2016 was replied by the Excise Branch vide CPIO’s letter dated 08.12.2016 and the Dy. Registrar, Customs Branch vide CPIO’s letter dated 21.12.2016 and 01.02.2017. Thereafter, the FAA passed an order dated 16.01.2017 by which inspection and copies of point no. 11 (i.e., E/58180/2013, Farseene Rubber Industries Ltd.), was allowed. In compliance with the FAA’s order dated 16.01.2017, a letter dated 25.01.2017 was issued to the Complainant giving one month time for inspection and taking copies of record of his choice. Thus, they had fully complied with the FAA’s order. The Respondent further submitted that if the Commission was not satisfied with his submission, another date of hearing could be granted since he was out of station for making an appearance before the Hon’ble High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh.
The Commission observed that the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of R.K. Jain v. V.P. Pandey, CPIO, CESTAT, New Delhi in W.P. (C) No. 4785/ 2017 dated 10.10.2017 adjudicated an order of the Commission dated 17.04.2017 whereby the Respondent was cautioned to exercise due care in future and to ensure that correct and complete information is furnished to the RTI applicants. It was decided that:
“2. The grievance of the petitioner is that although the CIC had accepted that there was a delay in providing the necessary information to the petitioner, the CIC had not imposed the penalty as required under Section 20(1) Where the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be, at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion that the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, has, without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified under sub-section (1) of section 7 or malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroyed information which was the subject of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information, it shall impose a penalty of two hundred and fifty rupees each day till application is received or information is furnished, so however, the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed twenty-five thousand rupees: Provided that the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before any penalty is imposed on him: Provided further that the burden of proving that he acted reasonably and diligently shall be on the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be. of the Right to Information Act, 2005. It is well settled that imposing of the penalty is a discretionary measure. In Anand Bhushan v. R.A. Haritash: ILR (2012) 4 Delhi 657 a division bench of this Court had considered the question whether the levy of penalty was discretionary and held as under..........
3. In this case it is apparent that the CIC had in its discretion considered that an order cautioning the CPIO would be sufficient. This Court is not inclined to interfere with such exercise of discretion.”
Furthermore, the Hon’ble High Court in the matter of R.K. Jain v. CIC and Anr. in W.P.(C) 4152/2017 dated 10.10.2017 had held as under:
“5. The question whether the CIC had the discretion to restrict the penalty or whether penalty as provided under Section 20 of the Act is mandatory, is no longer res integra. The said question was considered by a Division Bench of this Court in Anand Bhushan v. R.A. Haritash: ILR (2012) 4 Delhi 657 and the relevant extract of the said decision is set out below....
6. In view of the above, this Court finds no reason to interfere with the discretion exercised by the CIC. The petition is, accordingly, dismissed.”
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties and in the light of the aforesaid judgments of Hon’ble High Court as also the request of the Complainant not to press the matter further, no further intervention of the Commission is required in the matter.
The Public Authority is however advised to re-examine the methodology by which the RTI applications are dealt with in their office and evolve a robust mechanism for quick disposal of RTI matters in letter and spirit respecting the provisions of RTI Act. The Commission also instructs the Respondent Public Authority 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 Complaint stands disposed accordingly.
Citation: Mr. R.K. Jain v. Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal in Complaint No.:-CIC/DOREV/C/2017/192170-BJ, Date of Decision: 30.11.2017