Complainant sought refund of application fee citing delay & prayed for imposition of penalty on PIO - CIC advised the Complainant to exercise the right to information responsibly & avoid filing multiple applications; grievance can’t be addressed under RTI
Complainant sought refund of the RTI application fee paid by him on the ground that the information had not been provided to him within the stipulated timeframe; He also prayed for imposition of penalty on the PIO - CIC: We would strongly advise the Complainant to exercise the right, available to him as a citizen of India under the RTI Act, responsibly and avoid filing multiple RTI applications, particularly since his grievance regarding subdivision of land cannot be addressed under the RTI Act
These files contain complaints in respect of the RTI applications dated 22.9.2014, 9.9.2014, 16.1.2015, 9.3.2015, 20.4.2015 and 2.2.2015 filed by the Complainant seeking information regarding various land related issues. Not satisfied with the response of the Respondents, he has lodged complaints under Section 18 to the CIC in all the cases.
2. In the RTI application dated 22.9.2014 (two complaints on Files No. 554 and 619), the Complainant sought refund of the RTI application fee paid by him on the ground that the information had not been provided to him within the stipulated timeframe. The Respondents submitted that another complaint concerning the same RTI application was considered and disposed of vide paragraph 3 of our order No. CIC/SH/C/2014/000361 (plus seven files) dated 31.7.2015. This being the case, we do not consider it necessary to pass a fresh order on the complaints before us on Files No. 554 and 619.
3. In the RTI application dated 9.9.2014 (File No. 615), the Complainant sought some information regarding survey number 25/1 and 130. The Respondents stated that the information was provided on 29.1.2015 pursuant to the order of the FAA. The representative of the Complainant stated that the information was not received by him and, in any case, even if the information was provided on 29.1.2015, this was not within the stipulated timeframe. He prayed for imposition of penalty on the CPIO.
4. The RTI application dated 16.1.2015 (File No. 93) sought information regarding subdivision of land bearing survey No. 74/1, 74/2, 74/3 and 74/4 at Prathrapur village, Garacharma, Port Blair. The Respondents stated that a reply was sent to the Complainant on 27.1.2015 and he was asked to indicate the details of the revenue case(s) and the year for which information was needed. Explaining their reply, the Respondents stated that a survey number covers a whole village, containing the land holdings of different persons. Subdivision of land belonging to various owners may have taken place within the area of a survey from time to time and in different cases. Some such cases may be extremely old. Therefore, it is essential for them to get the details of the revenue case(s) and the year etc. to trace out the information. The representative of the Complainant stated that the information was not provided and the Respondents should provide him all the information available in their records.
5. In the RTI application dated 9.3.2015 (Files No. 224 and 261), the Complainant sought the entire abstract of five RC numbers. The Respondents were unable to provide us information concerning the final disposal of this application, except for stating that the Complainant’s appeal to the FAA was dismissed by him. However, Shri Santosh Prakash, AC (Settlement) assured us that the Respondents’ final response in the matter would be sent to the Complainant within the next fifteen days. In view of the above assurance, further enquiry into this complaint is not considered necessary.
6. The RTI application dated 20.4.2015 (Files No.313 and 339) sought information on six points regarding some parcels of lands. The Complainant stated that some of the information sought was regarding his own land and the remaining in respect of the land belonging to others. The Respondents stated that the above application does not figure in their records and in case a copy is provided by the Complainant, they would send a reply. The Complainant stated that he would provide a copy of the application to the Respondents.
7. In the RTI application dated 2.2.2015 (Files No. 127, 136 and 159), the information sought was regarding some land surrendered for a road and related issues. The Respondents stated that this application was filed to the Assistant Commissioner (Settlement), even though the matter pertained clearly to the Tehsildar on Special Duty. Shri Santosh Kumar, AC (Settlement) submitted that the Complainant has been deliberately filing RTI applications to his office, knowing fully well that the information is available in some other revenue offices. Therefore, the Complainant was informed that the information was not available in the office of AC (Settlement).
8. We have considered the submissions made by both the parties and note that these being complaints under Section 18 of the RTI Act, we are not in a position to give a directive to the Respondents regarding provision of any information. The representative of the Complainant has alleged that information was not provided to the Complainant in some cases. In others, he claimed that the information was provided after the stipulated timeframe. He also sought action against the CPIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act, alleging that the Respondents generally fail to respond to the RTI applications of the Complainant and do not comply with the orders of the Commission also. It is seen that the Complainant’s main grievance is rejection of his request regarding subdivision of his land. He also believes that subdivision has been sanctioned in similar other cases. Therefore, he and his son have filed a large number of RTI applications, enquiring not only about subdivision of the Complainant’s land, but also about the subdivisions carried out in various survey numbers over the years. As explained by the Respondents, it is difficult for them to trace out the information concerning all subdivisions in various survey numbers in the absence of details of the relevant revenue cases or the year of subdivision. We find merit in this argument of the Respondents. The Complainant, on the other hand, insists that he should be provided all the information concerning various survey numbers because of his belief that subdivision has been granted in cases similar to his own, whereas his request was rejected. In this context, we note that the Complainant and his son, Shri Jolly George, have filed as many as 152 appeals / complaints to the Commission during the period 2012 to January 2016. Out of these, as many as 101 appeals / complaints were filed in 2015. We also note our following observation, made in our order No. CIC/SH/C/2014/000361 (plus seven files) dated 31.7.2015, regarding the grievance of the Complainant’s son, Shri Jolly George concerning the rejection of the request for subdivision: “ He ought to appreciate that this is not a matter that can be resolved under the RTI Act or by filing multiple RTI applications. He is at liberty to take it up in an appropriate forum.”
It is true that not all the applications have been handled strictly in keeping with the provisions of the RTI Act. However, the confusion caused by the large number of applications filed by the Complainant and his son is, to a large extent, responsible for this.
9. In view of the foregoing, we have no hesitation in concluding that the Complainant is misusing the RTI facility by filing a large number of applications to the officers, who have dealt with the case of subdivision of land, thereby burdening not only the Respondents but also the Commission with avoidable work. In this context, we note the following observations made by the Supreme Court in Central Board of Secondary Education vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay in Civil Appeal No. 6454 Of 2011 in which it has advised the information seekers not create a situation whereby 75% of the time of the 75% public servants is spent only in responding to the RTI applications to the detriment of their routine duties. Para 37 of the said order is extracted below:
“ 37. The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability. The provisions of RTI Act should be enforced strictly and all efforts should be made to bring to light the necessary information under clause (b) of section 4(1) of the Act which relates to securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities and in discouraging corruption. But in regard to other information,(that is information other than those enumerated in section 4(1)(b) Every public authority shall publish within one hundred and twenty days from the enactment of this Act,- (i) the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties; (ii) the powers and duties of its officers and employees; (iii) the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability; (iv) the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions; (v) the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions; (vi) a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control; (vii) the particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof; (viii) a statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advice, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes of such meetings are accessible for public; (ix) a directory of its officers and employees; (x) the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations; (xi) the budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made; (xii) the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes; (xiii) particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it; (xiv) details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form; (xv) the particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use; (xvi) the names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers; (xvii) such other information as may be prescribed and thereafter update these publications every year; and (c) of the Act), equal importance and emphasis are given to other public interests (like confidentiality of sensitive information, fidelity and fiduciary relationships, efficient operation of governments, etc.). 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 counter-productive as it will adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and result in the executive getting bogged down with the non-productive 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 a public authorities prioritising ‘information furnishing’, at the cost of their normal and regular duties.”
We also note the following observation made by the High Court of Delhi in its judgment dated 5.2.2014 in Shail Sahni vs. Sanjeev Kumar & Ors. [W.P. (C) 845/2014]:7 “This Court is also of the view that misuse of the RTI Act has to be appropriately dealt with, otherwise the public would lose faith and confidence in this “sunshine Act”. A beneficent Statute, when made a tool for mischief and abuse must be checked in accordance with law.”
10. In view of the foregoing, we do not regard it as a fit case for action against the CPIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act. We would strongly advise the Complainant to exercise the right, available to him as a citizen of India under the RTI Act, responsibly and avoid filing multiple RTI applications, particularly since his grievance regarding subdivision of land cannot be addressed under the RTI Act. At the same time, we would advise the CPIO to fulfil the assurances given to us and mentioned above in paragraphs 5 and 6.
11. With the above observations, the eleven complaints are disposed of.
12. Copies of this order be given free of cost to the parties.
Citation: Shri George v. District of South Andaman, Port Blair in File No. CIC/SH/C/2014/000554 File No. CIC/SH/C/2014/000619 File No. CIC/SH/C/2014/000615 File No. CIC/SH/C/2015/000093 File No. CIC/SH/C/2015/000224 File No. CIC/SH/C/2015/000261 File No. CIC/SH/C/2015/000313 File No. CIC/SH/C/2015/000339 File No. CIC/SH/C/2015/000127 File No. CIC/SH/C/2015/000136 File No. CIC/SH/C/2015/000159