CIC: Since malafide intent on the part of the Respondents is not established, there is no ground to take action against CPIO u/s 20 - CIC: No compensation as the Appellant has also not established any loss or detriment caused to him because of the reply
This matter, pertaining to an RTI application filed by the Appellant, seeking copies of an appeal made to the Respondents by a terminated dealer and of all their records concerning termination of the dealership/disposal of the appeal, came up today. The CPIO denied the entire information on the ground that the appeal was still under consideration at the Head Office. In his order dated 12.5.2014, the FAA stated that since the appeal was made to the Head Office, the Appellant should approach the CPIO there for this information. Regarding the records of termination of dealership/action on the appeal, the FAA stated that the same were voluminous and, therefore, the Appellant could come in person to the office of the Respondents to inspect the same and thereafter obtain copies of the inspected documents desired by him.
Hearing on 16.2.2016
2. The Respondents stated that the Appellant did not visit their office to inspect the relevant records. They further submitted that the dealership was terminated on account of violation of the Marketing Discipline Guidelines and the matter is pending in a local court. They also stated that the Appellant had no connection to the terminated dealership. The Appellant was not present during the hearing. He has submitted his written submissions dated 29.01.2016, expressing his inability to attend the hearing due to his daughter’s marriage. In these submissions, he has stated that he has received the information in response to some other RTI applications and prayed for imposition of penalty under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act and recommendation of disciplinary action under Section 20 (2) against Shri A.S.N. Sharma (DG, Planning, HO) and CPIO and Shri A.C. Sarma, DGM and CPIO, Guwahati. He has submitted that Shri A.S.N. Sharma, who was the custodian of the information, transferred the application to the Guwahati office; even though he (the Appellant) was subsequently informed by the FAA to get a part of the information from the CPIO of the Head Office, viz. Shri A.S.N. Sharma. The Appellant alleges that the information was denied to him out of a malafide intent. He has also prayed for compensation under Section 19 (8) (b) of the RTI Act.
3. We have considered the submissions of both the parties. From the submissions made by Shri Kamal Kumar Goswami, Manager (Law), it is not clear as to why the FAA of the Guwahati office offered inspection of the relevant records by the Appellant even though, as per the submission made by Shri Kamal Kumar, he (the Appellant) had no connection with the terminated dealership. Further, it is also not clear why the CPIO at Mumbai transferred the entire application to the Guwahati office, even though, as per the order dated 12.5.2014 of the FAA of the Guwahati office, the information in response to point No.1 of the application was available at the Head Office. In view of the foregoing, the matter is adjourned to be heard again on 21.3.2016 at 10.00 a.m. through videoconferencing. We direct both Shri A.S.N. Sharma and Shri A.C. Sarma to be present for the next hearing on 21.3.2016 to offer their explanation on the above and related issues. Shri Kamal Kumar Goswami, Manager (Law) should ensure that copies of this order are served upon the above officers, immediately upon its receipt and they are present for the hearing on 21.3.2016.
4. The venue for videoconferencing, for the hearing on 21.3.2016, for the Appellant and the CPIO, Shri A.C. Sarma, DGM, will be the NIC studio, Kamrup Metro District Unit, 2nd floor, C/o Dy. Commissioner’s office, Near Meghdoot Bhavan, Guwahati 781005 and for the CPIO Mr. A.S.N. Sharma, General Manager will be NIC studio, Bandra (East), C/o Office of the Collector, Mumbai Suburban District, Administrative Building, 10th floor, Government Colony, Opp. Chetna College, Bandra (East), Mumbai400 051.
Hearing on 5.4.2016
5. The matter came up again today. At the outset, we asked the Appellant about his locus standi to seek the information concerning the termination of a dealership, with which he was not connected in any manner. He submitted that he has been involved with the petroleum business for twenty five years and it is necessary for him to know everything about the petroleum sector in larger public interest. In our view, the above submission does not entitle him to receive the information concerning the termination of a dealership belonging to a third party.
6. The next issue considered by us was regarding the Appellant’s submission that Shri A. S. N. Sharma, GM transferred the application to the Guwahati office, even though he was the custodian of information and that he did so with a malafide intent to deny the information. The Appellant has sought action against the CPIO on this ground under Section 20 and has also prayed for award of compensation to him.
7. Shri A. S. N. Sharma, GM stated that the Respondent public authority has sixteen state offices and at the Head Office itself, where he is based, there are more than ten departments. Therefore, he is not the custodian of every piece of information that is sought by RTI applicants, but has to seek the information from the concerned office / department. He further submitted that the practice on receipt of an application at the Head Office is to first transfer it to the concerned state office and then the information is provided in consultation with them and the concerned department(s). In response to our query, Shri A. S. N. Sharma stated that the appeal filed against termination of the dealership to the Executive Director at the Head Office was disposed of in March 2014 and the relevant documents were sent to the Guwahati Office. However, in response to our query to Shri A. C. Sarma, DGM at the Guwahati Office, he stated that in his letter dated 12.5.2014, the FAA of the Guwahati Office offered inspection of the records leading to termination of the dealership and not regarding the consideration of the appeal. The Appellant reiterated that the information was denied to him out of malafide intent.
8. We have considered the submissions mentioned in the preceding paragraph. It is seen that the appeal, a copy of which was sought, was filed to the Executive Director at the Head Office. Shri A. S. N. Sharma, GM stated that this appeal and the documents concerning its consideration were forwarded to the Guwahati Office upon its disposal in March 2014. However, in May 2014, the FAA of the Guwahati Office asked the Appellant to contact the Mumbai Office to get a copy of the appeal. The Respondents stated during today’s proceedings that the reference to the Mumbai Office in this case was “inadvertent.” Further, it is seen that at point No. 2 of his RTI application, the Appellant had sought access to the complete record regarding the determination of the dealership and disposal of the appeal. The Mumbai Office claims to have sent the documents concerning disposal of the appeal to the Guwahati Office in March 2014. However, in May 2014, the FAA of the Guwahati Office offered inspection of only the records concerning the determination of dealership. From the above it is clear that the replies given to the Appellant were not in accord with the submissions made before us today. However, at the same time, we note that, as stated in paragraph 5 above, the Appellant was not entitled to get the information concerning the determination of the dealership belonging to a third party. Notwithstanding the above, it is seen that the Respondents offered inspection of the records concerning the determination of dealership to him, which he did not carry out. Further, in his written submissions dated 4.3.2016 to the Commission, he has stated that he received some additional information from the Respondents in response to a new RTI application dated 13.10.2014. In view of the above, we do not agree with the contention of the Appellant that the replies of the Respondents in this case amounted to malafide intent on their part to deny the information. The somewhat confused replies appear to have been the result of the system of dealing with the RTI applications, filed to the Head Office, under which such applications are apparently sent in the first instance to the concerned state office even before checking whether the information in question is available with any of the departments at the Head Office. The Respondents need to streamline the system to ensure that the applications that can be disposed of at the Head Office are not sent needlessly to the state offices. By virtue of the power vested in us under Section 19 (8) (a) of the RTI Act, we direct the public authority to look into their existing system of disposal of the RTI applications filed to their Head Office and streamline the same to ensure that unnecessary transfers of applications, such as in the above case, are not made.
9. In the light of the above and since malafide intent on the part of the Respondents is not established, we see no ground to take action against the CPIO under Section 20. Further, the Appellant has also not established any loss or detriment caused to him because of the replies of the Respondents to his RTI application seeking information in a matter in which, in our view, he was not entitled to get the information. Therefore, we see no ground to award any compensation to him under Section 19 (8) (b) of the RTI Act.
10. With the direction in paragraph 8 and the above observations, the appeal is disposed of.
11. Copies of this order be given free of cost to the parties.
Citation: Shri Kashi Prasad Jajodia v. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd., in File No. CIC/SH/A/2014/002795