FAA raised doubts about appellant’s identity in terms of signatures, place of purchase of the postal orders & mailing of RTI applications - CIC: proof of Indian Citizenship could be sought if there is reasonable doubt about citizenship; appeal dismissed
Information concerning purchase orders, disposal details concerning some equipment, copy of the XI Plan Scheme approved by SFC/EFC was sought - PIO: appellant has not submitted an attested copy of his Ration Card / Voter ID / UID, as demanded for processing the case - FAA raised doubts about his identity in terms of signatures, the place of purchase of postal orders and mailing of the RTI applications - CIC: proof of Indian Citizenship could be asked for in cases where there is reasonable doubt as to the citizenship of an applicant, appeal dismissed
1. The Appellant, Shri Prakash Sankpal filed two RTI applications dated 26.9.2012. One of these, which was filed to the CPIO, Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology (CIRCOT), Mumbai, sought information concerning purchase / supply orders as well as disposal details concerning some equipment. The second application, filed to the CPIO, ICAR, New Delhi sought a copy of the XI Plan Scheme named “strengthening and modernization of Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology (CIRCOT)”, approved by SFC/EFC.
2. It appears that this application was forwarded by the CPIO of ICAR to the CPIO, CIRCOT, Mumbai to provide the information. The CPIO, CIRCOT responded to both these applications vide his letter dated 18.10.2012, stating that the court fee stamp, which had been affirmed towards payment of the RTI application fee, was not acceptable as a valid mode of payment and as such, the Appellant should deposit the fee as per the relevant RTI Rules.
3. Further, the CPIO also requested the Appellant to submit an attested copy of his Ration Card / Voter ID / UID for processing the case. The CPIO returned both the applications to the Appellant.
4. The Appellant then again filed two RTI applications on 6.11.2012 to the CPIO, CIRCOT. One of these contained the same queries, concerning purchase / disposal of machinery, as the previous application dated 26.9.2012, while the second application sought “copies of RTI applications (with the application fee in the form of court fee stamp) received and on which information supplied by CIRCOT, Mumbai during 20002012”.
5. The CPIO once again returned both the applications vide his letter dated 10.12.2012, stating that since the Appellant had not submitted an attested copy of his Ration Card etc. for processing the case, his applications were being returned along with the postal orders.
6. Aggrieved with the decision of the CPIO, the Appellant filed an appeal dated 17.12.2012 to the First Appellate Authority. In his order dated 15.1.2013, the FAA stated that the CPIO, CIRCOT was correct in asking for identity verification. He further stated that the signatures of the Appellant in the two applications dated 26.9.2012 and 6.11.2012 varied significantly and this raised suspicion about his identity. The FAA also stated that though the Appellant’s communication address was Kalyan in Thane District, about 60 kms from Mumbai, the Appellant had purchased the postal order for the second application from the Post Office in Mumbai, which is located very close to CIRCOT and had also preferred to post the application from the same Post Office. This further raised suspicion on the identity of the Appellant. In support of the decision of the Respondents to insist on the proof identity of the Appellant, the FAA cited the decision of the Commission in Hira Lal vs. Estate Office, Union Territory of Chandigarh, dated 6.9.2006 as well as the judgment of the High Court of Punjab & Haryana in C.W.P. No. 4787 of 2011 (O&M), date of decision: 2.11.2012.
7. Aggrieved with the decision of the FAA, the Appellant filed an appeal to the CIC on 30.4.2013 in which he argued, inter alia, that the CPIO was not within his right in asking for proof of identity under the RTI Act. He also raised a query regarding the Section of the RTI Act under which the CPIO had sought proof of identity. He questioned the action of FAA in raising doubts about his signatures as well as the place of purchase of postal orders and mailing of the RTI applications.
8. The Appellant was not present during the hearing in spite of a written notice having been sent to him. The Respondents reiterated their decision to seek proof of identity of the Appellant for the reasons already cited in the order of the FAA. In this context, we note that in its decision No. CIC/WB/C/2006/00183 dated 6.9.2006 in Hira Lal vs. Estate Office, Union Territory of Chandigarh, the Commission had made the following observations in a case in which information had been refused on the ground that the signatures on the RTI application did not tally with the signatures of the applicant available in the records of the public authority:
“If of course, there is suspicion of possible fraud through forged signatures, which is a criminal offence the information cannot be supplied unless that suspicion is allayed. In that case it would be open to the CPIO to seek that an applicant establish his or her identity before the information is supplied. It is hoped, because there has been no evidence to the contrary, that in this case the application was not rejected only as a matter of routine, but precise scrutiny before rejection of an application under the RTI Act 2005 will be well advised.”
9. However, in its subsequent decisions, the Commission has been of the view that proof of Indian Citizenship could be asked for in cases where there is reasonable doubt as to the citizenship of an applicant. This view takes into account Section 3 of the RTI Act, which states: “Right to Information Subject to the provisions of this Act, all citizens shall have the right to information.” Thus, in the Commission’s decision in File No. CIC/WB/C/2009/900352 dated 10.1.2010 (Chanderkant Jamnadas Karira vs. Vice President’s Secretariat), a format for RTI application, prescribed by the Vice President’s Secretariat, which called for information such as gender, date of birth, full name of father and mother, proof of residence etc., was under consideration of the Commission. The Commission had observed:
“A bare minimum requirement for a citizen who desires to obtain any information under this Act is that he shall make a request in writing or through electronic means in English or in Hindi or in the official language of the area in which the application is being made. It is clear, therefore, that asking the applicants to declare any form of allegiance is ultra virus. For this reason, it is recommended that it is only in cases where there is a reasonable doubt as to the citizenship of the applicant that the public authority may seek proof of citizenship which, presumably, is the objective of the above clause.”
10. In decision No. CIC/SM/A/2009/000216 dated 25.11.2009 (S C Das vs. Bank of India), the Commission observed:“ After hearing their submissions, we are of the view that CPIO was not right in insisting on a proof of identity and the Appellate Authority was not right in denying a number of information by citing the above provisions of the RTI Act.”
11. Further, in decision No. CIC/MA/C/2009/00246 dated 6.8.2009 (Bhaskar Jyoti Gogoi vs. Oil India Limited), the Commission observed:
“A Public Authority is expected to disclose the information relating to the outcome of the process of selection of staff. In view of this, the denial of information merely on the ground that the appellant has not submitted his citizenship proof, is unacceptable.”
12. The issue was also considered in the Commission’s decision No. CIC/SM/C/2009/000405/LS dated 12.3.2010 in A. N. Prasad vs. Indian Army. In this case, the Commission made the following observations:
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that certain information seekers living in rural areas may not have any proof of their identity in any of the forms enumerated in para 4(III) of this Commission’s proceedings dated 2.2.2010 extracted above, let alone proof of citizenship. It may also be that some of them have proof in one of the forms referred to above but furnishing of such proof before the CPIOs may be cumbersome and may involve costs and delays. To deprive such individuals of their statutory rights would not be just, fair and equitable. Considering the totality of circumstances, including the concerns of the Armed Forces, we are of the opinion that the proof of citizenship is not required from an information seeker as a matter of principle. However, in certain exceptional circumstances, where the CPIOs, particularly of the Armed Forces, have a doubt about the citizenship of the information seeker, it is open to such CPIOs to seek proof of citizenship. The Commission directs that the CPIOs would exercise this option only in exceptional cases.”
13. The stand taken by the Respondents in this case is not in keeping with the thinking underlying the Commission’s decisions, cited in paragraphs 10 to 12 above. However, in its judgment dated 2.11.2012 in Fruit and Merchant Union vs. Chief Information Commissioner & Ors. [C.W.P. 4787 of 2011 (O&M)], the High Court of Punjab and Haryana has given the following direction:
“Further, in all complaints before the Public Information Officer, the appeal before the first appellate authority or any proceedings before the Commission, it should be ensured that the applicant files his proof of identity along with the application. It is for the reason that in some cases, it has come to the notice of this court that the applicants were not identifiable. It would ensure that only the genuine persons file applications.”
8. Taking into account the above direction of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, we would not interfere with the decision of the Respondents in this case to insist on proof of identity of the Appellant.
9. Copies of this order be given free of cost to the parties.
Citation: Shri Prakash Sankpal v. Indian Council of Agricultural Research in File No. CIC/LS/A/2013/001104/SH