CIC: The expenses incurred out of public funds for the purpose of business / commercial activity / LTC cannot be classified as information of Commercial Confidence or personal information of the concerned officials; disclosure ordered
This matter pertains to an RTI application dated 12.7.2013 filed by the Appellant, seeking information on five points regarding TA / DA and LTC bills claimed by the CMD of the bank and copies of supportive vouchers from 1.4.2012 till the date of the RTI application. The CPIO responded on 8.8.2013 and denied the information in terms of section 8 (1) (d) of the RTI Act. Not satisfied with the reply of the CPIO, the Appellant filed an appeal to the First Appellate Authority on 14.8.2013. In his order dated 4.9.2013, the FAA upheld the CPIO’s reply. The Appellant filed second appeal dated 22.11.2013 to the CIC, which was received by the Commission on 2.12.2013.
2. We heard the submissions of the Appellant and the Respondents. The Respondents submitted that the CMD of the bank undertakes essential visits to several places for business and commercial purposes. These visits and details of travel cannot be disclosed as this information involves commercial confidence and relates to the business of the bank. The Respondents further submitted that it is also personal information, involving no public activity or interest. They stated that they have come across a letter dated 28.1.2014 addressed to Shri K. R. Kamat, CMD, Punjab National Bank by M/s Metro Crime 102, Surya Tower, Commercial Complex, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi. The address of the Appellant and M/s Metro Crime is the same, but the Respondent’s enquiries at the said address revealed that Metro Crime is a media office and they denied any link / connection with Shri Wadhwa, the Appellant. The Respondents drew our attention to the last sentence of the above mentioned letter dated 28.1.2014, which reads: “Metro Crime looks forward to a long and mutually beneficial association with you”. The Respondents also cited the decision of Punjab and Haryana High Court the case of Fruit and Merchant Union, wherein it was held “......it should be ensured that the applicant files his proof of identity along with the application.” The Respondents submitted that information has been sought by the Appellant for furtherance of personal interest.
3. The Appellant submitted that he is associated with ‘Metro Crime’ as consultant and using their address as well as his residential address for filing RTI applications with various public authorities. He further submitted that expenses incurred on TA / DA and LTC bills are out of public funds and certain cases of inflated claims by officials of public authorities have already appeared in media. He stated that the information sought by him is for larger public interest.
4. We have considered the records and the submissions made by both the parties before us. The expenses incurred out of public funds for the purpose of business / commercial activity / LTC cannot be classified as information of Commercial Confidence or personal information of the concerned officials. We do not see how disclosure of information concerning the places visited by the CMD of the bank can undermine its commercial confidence or its competitive position. Moreover, DoPT vide its O. M. No. 1/6/2011IR dated 15.4.2013 issued guidelines on suomoto disclosure under Section 4 of the RTI Act. Para 1.8 of the same is reproduced below:1.8
Foreign Tours of PM/Ministers
1.8.1 A large number of RTI queries are being filed on official tours undertaken by Ministers or officials of various Government Ministries/Departments. Information regarding the nature, place and period of foreign and domestic tours of Prime Minister are already disclosed on the PMO’s website. 1.8.2 As per DoPT’s OM No. 1/8/2012IR dated 11/9/2012, Public Authorities may proactively disclose the details of foreign and domestic official tours undertaken by the Minister(s) and officials of the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India and above and Heads of Departments, since 1st January, 2012. The disclosures may be updated once every quarter. 1.8.3. Information to be disclosed proactively may contain nature of the official tour, places visited, the period, number of people included in the official delegation and total cost of such travel undertaken. Exemptions under Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005 may be kept in view while disclosing the information. These instructions would not apply to security and intelligence organisations under the second schedule of the RTI Act, 2005 and CVOs of public authorities.
5. In so far as the identity of the Appellant is concerned, the Respondents could have asked him to produce proof of his identity, in case they had any doubt about the same. We do not see the relevance of the letter dated 28.1.2014, mentioned in paragraph 2 above, to the case before us and do not agree with the Respondents that it leads to the conclusion that the Appellant has sought the information for furtherance of his personal interest. Information in response to an RTI application cannot be denied simply on the ground that it may be put out in the media by the RTI applicant.
6. The Commission in its decision dated 10.9.2014 (File No. CIC/VS/A/2013/001936/MP) has held as follows:“ The Commission finds that the respondents had already provided details of TA bills covering the details of travel, date of travel, mode of travel, allowances, stay charges and the amount reimbursed. Collecting the TA bills for various years would indeed result in disproportionate diversion of human resources. The apex court in the case of CBSE Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Others decided on 9 August 2011 has also observed that “Indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information (unrelated to transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities and eradication of corruption) would be counterproductive as it will adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and result in the executive getting bogged down with the nonproductive work of collecting and furnishing information. The Act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquility and harmony among its citizens. Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty. The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties. The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees of public authorities prioritising ‘information furnishing’, at the cost of their normal and regular duties.” The appellant could not also substantiate any larger public interest. The Commission therefore upholds the decision of the respondents. The appeal is disposed of.”
7. In view of the foregoing, we direct the CPIO to provide information to the Appellant on points No. 1 to 4 of RTI application dated 12.7.2013, within thirty days of the receipt of this order, under intimation to the Commission. In regard to copies of bills with supportive documents for the period 1.4.2012 till the date of the RTI application, we find it to be voluminous information, whose compilation will disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority from its day to day work. At the same time, in the interest of transparency, we would like to give the Appellant access to information for a limited period. The Appellant may choose any period of one month from 1.4.2012 till 12.7.2013 (date of the RTI application) and convey the same to the CPIO. In the event of the Appellant doing so, the CPIO is directed to provide him copies of TA/DA/LTC bills along with supportive vouchers, on payment of the prescribed photocopying charges, within thirty working days of receiving from the Appellant intimation regarding the month chosen by him, under intimation to the Commission. While providing copies of LTC bills and supportive vouchers, the CPIO should exclude information concerning the names and age etc. of family members.
6. With the above directions and observations, the appeal is disposed of.
7. Copies of this order be given free of cost to the parties.
Citation: Shri H.N. Wadhwa v. Indian Bank in File No. CIC/MP/A/2014/000027/SH