Details of the Cabinet meetings held over a period of six years
The appellant filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with the Cabinet Secretariat seeking information relating to the Cabinet meetings held for a period of six years. He sought the agenda papers, the list of officers who attended the Cabinet meetings and list of those who were only in attendance during the said meetings. He also wanted the details of all the Cabinet meetings including the agenda papers in which the subject matter relates to the Ministry of textiles. The Public Information Officer (PIO) denied some of the information stating that the collection of the information would disproportionately divert the resources of the Cabinet Secretariat. He invited the appellant to inspect the relevant registers and take down notes. He denied the agenda papers presented during the Cabinet meetings on the ground that the Cabinet papers were exempt from disclosure under section 8(1)(i) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers: Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over: Provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed; of the RTI Act and stated that it was for the individual Ministry to decide what Cabinet papers could be disclosed in terms of the proviso to this particular subsection. The First Appellate Authority (FAA) upheld the decision of the PIO but directed him to transfer the RTI application to the Ministry of Textiles to address several of the remaining requests. The Ministry of Textiles also provided the copies of some documents against payment of photocopying charges and in some cases, invited the appellant to inspect the records stating that it could not be provided as they are extremely voluminous in nature.
During the hearing before the Central Information Commission (CIC), the appellant submitted that the information sought by him would not divert the resources of the public authorities rather it should be maintained in the manner prescribed in section 4 of the RTI Act and should be easily retrieved. The respondent representing the Cabinet Secretariat submitted that Cabinet meetings were held almost every week and since the information spanned over a period of nearly 6 years and the total number of such meetings would run into hundreds. He further submitted that they did not maintain information Ministry wise therefore extracting out information regarding those Cabinet meetings in which any subject relating to the Textile Ministry might have come up would be a matter of research.
View of CIC
The Commission noted that the appellant wanted the details of all the Cabinet meetings compiled over a period of five years or more and to provide the entire information the PIO will have to research through the records of several hundred Cabinet meetings held during this period to find out which all relate to the Ministry of Textiles. The CIC held that this has the clear potential to divert disproportionately the resources of the Cabinet Secretariat. The Commission further held that the Cabinet Secretariat does not maintain information in the manner in which the appellant had sought and under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, PIO has no obligation to do research and create information to suit the specific need of the information seeker.
The Commission directed the PIO, Ministry of Textiles to provide the information offered by them to the appellant free of cost as they had offered the information after the stipulated period of 30 days. The CIC also ruled that some of the agenda papers seem to be too voluminous to be collected and photocopied without disproportionately diverting the resources of the Ministry therefore the PIO should invite the appellant to visit his office to inspect the relevant records and take the photocopies of some identified documents. Regarding as to who attended the Cabinet meetings on behalf of the Ministry or those who were in attendance, the Commission directed the PIO to provide the copy of the available records and, in case no such record is available showing the attendance of individuals representing the Ministry of Textiles, he shall very clearly state so while writing to the appellant.
The Commission further held that RTI Act gives the citizens the right to seek information from public authorities. But, the preamble to the RTI Act very clearly states that the individual need for information must be balanced against the need for running the administration smoothly. The present case is clearly one case in which the information demanded can engage the public officials in researching and collecting endless information to the detriment of their normal functioning which is surely not in public interest.
Citation: Mr. Vishwas Bhamburkar v. Cabinet Secretariat in File No. CIC/SM/A/2012/001111
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2013/CIC/980
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission