CIC: The PIO neither transferred the RTI Application to the concerned department to whom the subject matter pertained to nor sought the assistance of the concerned department under section 5(4)/ Section 5 (5); Notice issued for imposition of penalty
O R D E R
1. The complainant filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) before the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), M/o. Finance, Department of Economic Affairs, North Block, New Delhi. The complainant seeking information pertaining to letter issued by CVC Complaint No. 127116/2019/vigilance-5 Dtd 13.6.19is as under:-
1. “Date of receipt and inward number of letter Dtd 13.6.19 along with it's received office copy and enclosures with its file noting mentioning name, designation, & signature of the officials.
2. Kindly also provide File number and total number of pages enclosed in the file for Sno 1.
3. Provide the copies of documents/approvals/letters/notes/orders which are:
i. prepared/executed for Sno 1 along with file noting and signature of the officers and/or
ii. issued for Sno 1 along with file noting and signature of the officers and/or
iii. received for Sno 1 along with file noting and signature of the officers.
4. Provide Action Taken Report for Sno 1 along with file noting and signature of the officials. Note: If no information is available on record then kindly confirm the same.”
2. The CPIO vide letter dated 27-02-2020 denied the information sought in the RTI Application by stating that “the information sought is not available with this CPIO.” Being aggrieved with the response given by the respondent, the complainant filed a complaint u/Section 18 of the RTI Act before the Commission requesting to take appropriate legal action against the CPIO u/Section 20 of the RTI Act.
3. The complainant attended the hearing through audio-call. The respondent, Ms Jessie Jacob, present CPIO/ Ass. Commissioner along with Shri Rajeev Ranjan, then CPIO attended the hearing through audio-call.
4. The respondent submitted their written submissions dated 27.10.2021 and the same has been taken on record.
5. The complainant submitted that the desired information has not been provided to him by the respondent on his instant RTI application. That the respondent in response to his RTI applications has given cyclostyle response and not applied his mind in giving reply. That there is a delay in giving reply on the part of the then CPIO which amounts to deemed refusal. That the then CPIO has also not sought assistance under Section 5(4)/ Section 5 (5) of the RTI Act in order to obtain information from the concerned department/section of the public authority. The complainant contended that the respondent with malafide intention has obstructed the information under the RTI Act.
6. Ms Jessie Jacob submitted that both the RTI Application as well as first appeal is disposed of online. She further submitted that vide an online disposal dated 27.02.2020, the then CPIO has informed the complainant that “the information sought is not available with this CPIO.”
7. Shri Rajeev Ranjan submitted that since the information sought is not available with their office, accordingly the same has been informed to the complainant. Therefore, in his opinion this was the only reply which should have been given to the complainant.
8. The Commission, after hearing the submissions of both the parties and after perusal of records, observes that the complainant has sought information pertaining to letter issued by CVC Complaint No. 127116/2019/vigilance-5 dated 13.06.2019. That the complainant contended that the respondent could have taken the assistance of the concerned department/ division under Section 5(4)/ Section 5 (5) of the RTI Act instead of providing reply without application of mind. Therefore, the respondent with malafide intention has obstructed the information under the RTI Act. That the Commission observes that there is a clear provision that if the information sought is not related to the concerned office then the RTI Application should be transferred under Section 6 (3) of the RTI Act to the concerned department/ division, however the then CPIO kept the instant RTI Application pending and provided a single line reply to the complainant stating that since the information sought is not available, accordingly the reply has been given to the complainant as per his understanding. That the then CPIO neither transferred the instant RTI Application to the concerned department/division within stipulated time-period nor took assistance under Section 5(4)/ Section 5 (5) of the RTI Act in order to obtain information from the concerned department/ section of the public authority.
9. The Commission is of the view that the CPIO is not required to give his own judgments on the issue but he should have specifically/point-wise denied it that the information sought is not available as per their records or should have sought the assistance of the concerned CPIO/department u/s. 5(4) of the Act in order to give specific reply/information. Terming any information unnecessary is not warranted. The Commission takes a serious note of this fact. A reference was drawn to the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of J.P Agrawal v. Union of India-2013(287) ELT25(Del.) wherein it was held as under:
7.“it is the PIO to whom the application is submitted and it is who is responsible for ensuring that the information as sought is provided to the applicant within the statutory requirements of the Act. Section 5(4) is simply to strengthen the authority of the PIO within the department; if the PIO finds a default by those from whom he has sought information. The PIO is expected to recommend a remedial action to be taken”. The RTI Act makes the PIO the pivot for enforcing the implementation of the Act.”
10. Further, while examining the complaint under Section 18 of the RTI Act, the CIC has no jurisdiction to direct disclosure of any information. This legal position has been authoritatively settled by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Chief Information Commissioner and Another v. State of Manipur and Anr.in Civil Appeal Nos. 10787-10788 of 2011 dated 12-12-2011. The relevant extract of the said decision is set down below:-
“30. It has been contended before us by the respondent that under Section 18 of the Act the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission has no power to provide access to the information which has been requested for by any person but which has been denied to him. The only order which can be passed by the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be, under Section 18 is an order of penalty provided under Section 20. However, before such order is passed the Commissioner must be satisfied that the conduct of the Information Officer was not bona fide. 31. We uphold the said contention and do not find any error in the impugned judgment of the High court whereby it has been held that the Commissioner while entertaining a complaint under Section 18 of the said Act has no jurisdiction to pass an order providing for access to the information.”
11. In the light of the above observations, the Commission is of the opinion that the then CPIO neither transferred the instant RTI Application to the concerned department/division to whom the subject matter pertains to nor sought the assistance of the concerned department/ division under section 5(4)/ Section 5 (5) of the RTI Act. Therefore, the conduct of the then CPIO is highly objectionable and hence, the Commission directs Shri Rajiv Ranjan Singh, the then PIO to show cause in writing the reasons that as to why penalty should not be imposed on him for contravening the provisions of the RTI Act and for not providing appropriate and point-wise reply to the information sought in the instant RTI Application and thereby obstructing the relevant information to the complainant, within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order.
12. With the above observations, the complaint is disposed of.
13. Copy of the decision be provided free of cost to the parties.
Neeraj Kumar Gupta
Citation: Mr. Varun Krishna v. CPIO M/o. Finance, Department of Economic Affairs in Complaint No. CIC/DOEAF/C/2020/665367, Date of Order: 01-11-2021