Details of the investors & correspondence made between Sahara India and SEBI - details are in the nature of commercial confidence of the investors u/s 8(1)(d) - correspondence cannot be disclosed because of pending litigations as per section 8(1)(h)
1. The complainant had sought the copies of the entire correspondence made between the Sahara India and the SEBI since the year 2000. He had also wanted the copies of the orders, notifications, circulars issued by the SEBI regarding Sahara India since the same year. Besides, he had also asked for the details of the refunds made/rejected since the date of the Supreme Court order, that is, 31 August 2012, the details of the investors including the communications sent by the SEBI to the investors. The CPIO had offered part of the information against payment of photocopying charges and had refused to disclose much of the remaining information on the ground that it was exempt under the provisions of section 8(1) (d), section 8(1)(e), section 8(1)(h) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders; and section 8(1)(j) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person. of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Instead of appealing against this order before the Appellate Authority, the complainant has chosen to approach the CIC directly.
2. During the hearing, the complainant argued that the CPIO had taken more time than the stipulated period to provide him whatever information and, therefore, he should not have charged him any fees. He also protested that the CPIO had not provided him the complete information. Besides, he argued that since the Supreme Court of India had already decided the case, the CPIO should have provided all the information he had asked for. On the other hand, the respondent submitted that the matter was not fully decided yet and it was pending before not only the Supreme Court of India but before other statutory bodies for adjudication and the disclosure of the information sought by the Appellant at this stage would prejudicially affect those cases, specially, the interests of the investors. Besides, he also argued that the total volume of information sought was staggering keeping in mind the fact that the investor details provided by the Sahara India ran into several truckloads of records. He was against the disclosure of any such information.
3. The Respondent also pointed out that the complainant had indeed filed an appeal before the Appellate Authority which he had disposed of by upholding the order of the CPIO, a fact the complainant had not mentioned in his complaint.
4. The only point on which we are in agreement with the complainant relates to the payment of photocopying charges. Since the complainant had deposited the photocopying charges on the advice of the CPIO, the information should have been provided to him immediately thereafter. Unfortunately, in this case, the CPIO took nearly 2 weeks to provide the information, thereby, exceeding the time period stipulated under the law. Therefore, it would be proper for the CPIO to refund the photocopying charges, Rs. 276, collected from the complainant. The CPIO does not need to do anything more than this. On the question of disclosure of the remaining information, the CPIO is absolutely right that the details of the investors and the correspondence made with them would fall within the exemption provision contained in section 8(1) (d) of the RTI Act as this information is in the nature of commercial confidence of the investors. Similarly, the correspondence made between the SEBI and the Sahara India cannot be disclosed in the public domain in the light of the fact that various litigations are still pending involving the interests of millions of investors. Unless these matters are finally decided and disposed off, it would not be prudent to disclose the information in the public domain lest it would be used to prejudicially affect the pending cases and the ability of the SEBI in prosecuting the errant entities. Such information is covered under the exemption provision contained in section 8(1) (h) of the RTI Act as very rightly held by the CPIO. Thus, the CPIO cannot be held responsible for not providing such information or punished for that.
Chief Information Commissioner
Citation: Sh. Ashok Kumar Lunawat v. Securities and Exchange Board of India in File No. CIC/SM/C/2013/000291