CIC: Citizen do not have a right to repeat the same or similar or slightly altered information which he already got; Such repetition shall be considered as ground of refusal under the RTI Act; PIO/ FAA shall explain such facts and reject it forthwith
Heard on 5.6.14. Appellant not present. Public Authority is represented by Shri Susheel Saxena.
2. The Appellant filed an RTI application dt.23.8.12 with the PIO, DTTDC seeking information against sixty eight points. Not satisfied with the PIO’s reply (Copy not enclosed), the Appellant filed an appeal dt.10.10.12 with the Appellate Authority. The Appellate Authority vide order dt.14.11.12 directed the PIO to provide all available information within twenty working days. On not receiving any reply, the Applicant filed a second appeal dt.12.3.13 before CIC.
3. The Appellant, in this case is a former employee of DTTDC who was compulsorily retired after several allegations were proved against him. The document dt.4.5.09 addressed to the Hon’ble Lt. Governor of Delhi produced before the Commission contains the long case history of the Appellant which run into fifteen pages explains various charges against him and penalty imposed against him under different circumstances based on enquiry conducted.
4. The Respondent officers submitted that Appellant has asked as many as sixty eight questions. His questions mostly pertain to the letters submitted by him to different offices like the LG of Delhi, Chief Secretary’s office, Directorate of vigilance, Directorate of Anti Corruption Branch and for action taken report on these letters.
5. The Respondent authority also submitted that they have given information to an earlier RTI application in pursuance to CIC order dt.21.10.10 after facilitating inspection, which mostly relates to point sought in the present case also. The Appellant has also acknowledged receipt of documents received after inspection. Out of his sixty eight questions, seventeen pertain to his letters written to different departments which were claimed to have been forwarded to respondent authority. The Respondent submitted that they do not know exactly what letter was forwarded to them. So it is difficult for them to trace the letter. Thirty nine questions pertain to the action taken report on the letters written by him to CMD of DTTDC. Q.No.57 seeks to know the reasons for issuance of a particular letter. Q.No.57 to 67 deals with action taken against him.
6. The Respondent submitted that all these questions were subject matter of enquiry which was conducted according to rules and based on which he was compulsorily retired. The Respondent authority submitted that there were six enquiry reports and all of them were provided to the Appellant and the Appellant has challenged one among them.
7. The PIO is directed to provide information against Q.No.58 which talks about the policy of declaring an employee as surplus.
8. The Commission observes that this is yet another case of repeated questions being filed by a dismissed employee which Respondent feels is continuous harassment. The Respondent pleaded before the Commission that when the Appellant has challenged the decision taken based on enquiry report, why should office be subjected to repeated RTI applications on the subject matter.
RTI: Not a rendezvous of disgruntled elements
9. The Commission noticed three or four former employees in every public authority, who were either suspended or removed or facing charges, convicted in a crime or facing disciplinary action trying to run a counter inquiries with harassing questions. The Commission also noted an atmosphere of fear and worry was spread in the offices and officers started hesitating to take action against erring staff members for fear of facing flood of questions under RTI. Sometimes, the RTI applications run into hundreds of questions similar to those posed by lawyers during cross examination or appear like a parallel enquiry against the authorities who might have ordered disciplinary action against them. The respondents submitted they were ready to comply with the RTI Act but answering ‘enquiry’ type questions and repeated RTI applications would involve diversion of resources, energy besides demoralizing them. The Commission appreciates the genuineness of the problem and sincere feelings of the respondent officers and finds a need to address this serious issue. It is the responsibility of Information Commissions and Government of India to see that the RTI Act will not become the rendezvous for disgruntled elements.
Positive impact of RTI
10. However, the Commission also takes this opportunity to remind that because of RTI questions a positive sense of accountability had been introduced and certain systems of discipline and answerability are being put in place in several departments. The disarray situation of files and records keeping is changing and systematic keeping of records is being initiated. If abuse or repetitive use is curtailed, the RTI will empower the citizen and makes public authorities more accountable and democracy will be driven by informed citizenry.
Placing RTI abusers information in public domain
11. To address the problem of harassing repeated question, the Commission recommends the respondent authority to analyze all the RTI applications filed by such appellants, compile all the questions contained therein and indicate the information provided against them and upload the same in the website as part of voluntary disclosure, after sending a copy to the appellants and the Commission. That consolidated information along with a background note based on facts, avoiding unfounded allegations should also be placed. The Commission also recommends exhibiting the information in their notice board at the entrance or any conspicuous place in their office, taking a photograph of such a notification and posting it on the website.
12. The entire information about the repeated RTI questions by appellants (such as, Mr. RC Jain, Mr. Jai Kumar Jain, Mr. Sat Dev Sharma and Mr. Suraj Prakash Bakshi, etc. as complained by the respondent authority in this case), and the documents given by the Public authority, the private interest of the appellants, lack of public interest in the said RTI applications, etc. also should be kept in the public domain, so that people do not resort to file repeated vexatious RTI applications, clogging the public authority and depriving them of their valuable time to be spent on the performance of their duties. The information in website also serve as answers to RTI question if repeated again, to which the reference or weblink could be given. The same may be reported in their counters to first and second appeals.
UK, South Africa, Mexico refuse vexatious requests
13. The United Kingdom’s Freedom of Information Act, 2000 which became fully effective in January 2005 provided an exception to Right to Information on the grounds of vexatious or repeated requests as a general exception under Section 14. Requests for information intended to be published are also excluded. Information which is already reasonably accessible to the applicant even though this involves payment operates as absolute exception under Section 21 of Freedom of Information Act, 2000 of UK. In Mexico the access to information law provides grounds of offensive requests or requests which have already been dealt with for refusing the information. South Africa also provided for refusing information requests which are frivolous or vexatious. Renowned Author Sudhir Naib, in his book ‘The Right to Information in India, published by Oxford University Press 2013 supported these restrictions saying: “This appears to be in order as vexatious, offensive or repeated requests can impose a costly burden on public authorities and yet not advance the right to information” (at page 28).
Res judicata = already decided
14. The Commission noticed that some of the applicants are filing photocopies of RTI requests with the same public authorities time and again seeking information, irrespective of the fact that previous application reached second appeal level and information was furnished or refused as decided by the wisdom of authorities. When not taken to High Court for judicial review, the matter assumes finality and cannot be sought for again from the PIO. Though Right to Information Act, 2005 did not have any specific provision to bar the repetition for information like Section 11 of Code of Civil Procedure, the universal principle of civil justice ‘res judicata’ will certainly apply and the repeated request has to be rejected with an emphasis. Two Latin maxims form the basis of this rule, they are: ‘interest republicae ut sit finis litium’ (= it is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation) and ‘nemo devet vis vexari pro una et eadem cause” (=no man should be taxed twice over for the same cause). If the PIOs, First Appellate Authorities and the Commissions allow repeated RTI applications, there will be no end to the information litigation and the public authorities would be continuously taxed for no fault of them. Appeal as provided by law is allowed, though it appears like relitigating, because it is review and an opportunity to challenge the order on reasonable and legal grounds. Filing same or slightly modified application for information which was decided, is against the principles of natural justice pertaining to procedure.
15. The Civil Justice principles also recognized ‘constructive res judicata’ which means when an applicant availed opportunity of obtaining information on a particular subject, he is expected to seek all the related information in that opportunity itself. He cannot file another application for a bit or piece which he forgot to ask, or not advised by his lawyer to ask, or thought he should postpone it for other purposes. He should ask all possible aspects of information about that subject matter, once and for all. If he does not, it is assumed that he asked for that and was refused properly. This is incorporated in principles of civil procedural justice and practiced universally. It is in the public interest and also to further objectives of Right to Information Act, that such repeated or unending stream of questions being sought from same or different public authorities to be stopped.
16. The Commission noticed that several applicants seek some information from one wing of the public authority, and based on the information received, file a bunch of RTI questions from the same or other wings of same public authority, or from other authority and the harassment continues without an end. Even the PIO of Central Information Commission is flooded with such repeated questions from thousands angles by one person running into hundreds of RTI applications. As the PIOs went on answering, more and more questions are generated out of the same and in the same proportion the number of repeated first appeals and second appeals also are growing.
IC MM Ansari’s observations
17. In Prem Prakash Kumar v NFL, Panipat, (Decision no. 246/IC/(A)/2006, F.No. CIC/MA/A/2006/00374 & 375 dated 28 August 2006) the appellant sought documents and specific comments of CPIO on 89 queries. The Learned Commissioner Shri M M Ansari observed that in fact, the nature of queries and the information sought are such that the information seeker would never be satisfied because the promotion of self interest, rather than public interest, was dominant, as the appellant had sought redressal of grievances.
A N Tiwari’s observations
18. In Shri Gopal Soni v The New India Assurance Company Ltd (F No CIC/AT/A2008/00097, 000116, 000124, dated 12.6.2008) Learned Commissioner Shri A. N. Tiwar dealt with similar problem. The respondents above submitted that the appellant, their employee, was suspended for insubordination and misconduct, and ever since he directed a spate of applications containing queries for detailed, voluminous but inane information which would have to be collected and collated from over 30 branches. The Commission held in this case: answering the elaborate and detailed queries, which have to be both accurate and authentic, imposes heavy cost on the public authority and tends to divert its resources, which brings it within the scope of section 7(9) An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question. of RTI Act.
19. In Sh K. Lall v Sh M K Bagri, Assistant Registrar of Companies & CPIO, F No. CIC/AT/A/2007/00112, the Learned Central Information Commissioner Sri A N Tiwari observed: …it would mean that once certain information is placed in public domain accessible to the citizens either freely or on payment of a predetermined price, that information cannot be said to be ‘held’ or ‘under the control’ of the public authority and thus would cease to be an ‘information’ accessible under the RTI Act.”
20. Emphasis is that once the information is accessible or available, no requests for the same shall be entertained. In a limited extent it avoids repetition. This can be extended further to say once applicant procured the information sought, the information is no more ‘held’ by public authority or ‘under its control’ as far as that applicant is concerned, and thus the public authority need not answer.
Shailesh Gandhi’s observations
21. It is relevant here to quote a paragraph from the order of Learned Information Commissioner Sri Shailesh Gandhi in case numbers…. Dated….in a second appeal between……. : The Commission, at several appellate hearings, has explained to the complainant that under RTI Act, only the information as per records can be made available; multiple RTI applications and appeals would not provide him any information beyond the records that exists. The Commission recognizes the fact that valuable time of the complainant, respondentpublic authority as well as the Commission is being spent in merely going through the motions prescribed under the RTI Act again and again to obtain similar information. …. At this juncture the Commission would like to mention that though the right to information is a fundamental right of the citizens, it cannot be used indiscriminately to fulfill the demands of one individual. In the present matter, it must be noted that the Complainant is pursuing multiple litigation and various public authorities are being asked to divert an extraordinarily disproportionate amount of resources just to respond to hundreds of RTI applications filed by him. …The Commission is also conscious of the fact that it is financed by the poorest man in this country who may be starving to death. The complainant by repeatedly filing similar RTI applications and appeals with the respondent public authority and the Commission is wasting public resources.
22. In the above case the Commissioner Sri Shailesh Gandhi observed that appellant was using RTI Act as a litigation tool, his use of RTI was vexatious in nature, and held that entertaining such appeal could no longer serve the objectives of the RTI Act and at one go the Commissioner had disposed off all the pending appeals.
No scope for repeating under RTI Act
23. Though RTI Act, did not specifically provide this as a ground of refusing the information, it is implied from the various provisions of RTI Act, that any citizen has right to information only once and not repeatedly.
Principles of Freedom of Information Legislation
24. International standard series have developed the Principles of Freedom of Information Legislation under the title ‘Public’s Right to Know”, by the Article 19 Organization. These Principles were endorsed by Mr. Abid Hussain, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, in his report to the 2000 session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and referred to by the Commission in its 2000 resolution on freedom of expression. They were also endorsed by Mr. Santiago Canton, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in his 1999 Report, Volume III of the Report of the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights to the OAS. Under Principle 4 “Limited scope for exceptions’ this document explained that exceptions should be clearly and narrowly drawn and subject to strict “harm” and “public interest” tests. Explaining the ‘harm’ test, it stated that the public body must also show that the disclosure of the information would cause substantial harm to that legitimate aim. (https://www.google.co.in/webhp?sourceid=chromeinstant& ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF8# q=The %20Public%E2%80%99s%20 Righ t %20to%20Know%3A%20Principles%20of%20Freedom%20of%20Information %20Legislation)
25. Cases of disclosure of information to the repetitive applicants for their private purpose which promotes their private interest but not the public interest, would cause substantial harm to the legitimate aim of the Right to Information Act.
26. Once information is given, applicant shall not seek the same once again. If the applicant seeks information again and again, the PIO, the First Appellate Authority and the Commission would be forced to spend their time on this repeated application, and in the process the authorities would lose that much time to address the other RTI applications or performing their general duties in their public office. Repeated RTI application amounts to clogging the office of public authority and CPIO would be right in refusing the same with intimation. Because the Repeated RTI application has an effect of clogging the public offices, it would amount to obstructing the free flow of information to deserving and genuine RTI applicants, besides preventing the officers from performing their general duties attached to their office. Commission shall record ABUSE, admonish ABUSER
27. As there is no provision in RTI Act, 2005 to penalize the applicant for abusing his right to information or clogging public office, Commission finds itself helpless with regard to penalizing them. However the Commission believes that it can record the fact of abuse of RTI Act, 2005 and notify the admonition, direct/recommend applicants not to resort to abuse anymore and direct/recommend public authorities to refuse them. If any applicant resorts to three such repeated RTI applications, the Commission may even recommend blocking of such abuse and direct the public authority not to entertain the same applicant anymore, which has again to be notified. Waste of public time and obstructing RTI
28. All the above discussion can be consolidated into two reasons: (i) Even a single repetition of RTI application would demand the valuable time of the public authority, first appellate authority and if it also reaches second appeal, that of the Commission, which time would have been spent to hear another appeal or answer another application or perform other public duty. (ii) Every repetition of RTI application is an obstruction of flow of information and defeats the purpose of the RTI Act.
Citizen has no Right to Repeat
29. For the above reasons and based on objective of the RTI Act, its provisions, which should be read together, and above orders by the learned Commissioners, this Commission observes: a) The citizen do not have a right to repeat the same or similar or slightly altered information which he already got, (the combined reading of various provisions of RTI Act, along with the statement of objectives of the Act) b) Once an RTI application is answered, the appellants shall refrain themselves from filing another RTI application against the public authority as once information is received and held by them or posted in public domain, the applicants are not supposed to seek it again under RTI applications.
Repetition shall be ground of refusal c) Such repetition shall be considered as ground of refusal under the RTI Act. d) An applicant or appellant repeating the RTI application or appeal either once or files multiple applications, in certain cases hundreds of queries, suppressing the fact of earlier application and receipt of the answer, the CPIO of public authority shall explain such facts and intimate the applicant, and reject it forthwith, giving such reason.
Appeals can be rejected e) The First Appellate Authority shall be right if they reject first appeal on this ground and the Commission also would only be justified in rejecting such appeal.
30. The Commission ordered accordingly.
(M. Sridhar Acharyulu)
Citation: Pradeep S.Ahluwalia v. Delhi Tourism & Transportation Development Corporation in Case No. CIC/AD/A/2013/001046SA