Information about MOU entered with EPIL for construction and development of the Police Academy Project at Nalanda, date of completion of project etc. was sought - CIC advised to suo motu disclose all details relating to commercial contracts
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 11 points relating to the development of police housing/ police academy at Nalanda, Bihar, date of award letter issued by the Bihar Govt./ Bihar Police Department/ MOU entered with EPIL for construction and development of the Police Academy Project, date of completion of project as per award letter/ MOU, total value of works as per award letter by Bihar Govt/ Bihar Police and issues related thereto. The CPIO vide letter dated 23.03.2017 provided a point wise response and denied information for points 5 (a), 8, 9(a) and (b) and 11 (a) and (b) u/s 8(1)(d) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information; of the RTI Act, 2005. As regards point 5 (b), it was stated that no Building wise Bill of Quality was available and disclosure would require disproportionate diversion of resources thereby attracting Section 7 (9) of the Act. Dissatisfied by the response the Appellant approached the FAA. The FAA vide order dated 23.06.2017 concurred with the CPIO’s response.
Facts emerging during the hearing: The following were present:
Appellant: Mr. Amit Pratap Shaunak Appellant’s representative;
Respondent: Mr. S. K. Tiwari, Executive Director (M: 9810582688) and Ms. Prabjot Kaur, Manager;
The Appellant’s representative reiterated the contents of the RTI application and stated that complete and satisfactory information was not provided. It was categorically stated that in respect of point no. 05, 08, 09 and 11, the Respondent deliberately withheld the information which was of larger public interest. He consistently held that information on these points should have been provided but on some or the other excuse, the same was denied. He referred to the decision of Hon’ble High Court of Jharkhand in the matter of State of Jharkhand Vs. Naveen Kumar Singha and Anr., AIR 2008 Jharkhand dated 08.08.2007. In the instant case since the tender process was completed and contract awarded, the information sought could not have been denied. The Respondent clarified that since the information related inter-alia to some of the commercial aspects of the project, the same was denied. Nonetheless, the basic details were furnished by the CPIO in its reply. As regards, building wise details sought by the Appellant, it was clarified that no such records were maintained and that whatever information was held on their record could be furnished. The Commission finds that the decision of the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Jamia Millia Islamia v. Ikramuddin WP (C) No. 5677/2011 dated 22.11.2011, is pertinent in this matter wherein it was observed that:
“The act of entering into an agreement with any other person/entity by a public authority would be a public activity, and as it would involve giving or taking of consideration, which would entail involvement of public funds, the agreement would also involve public interest. Every citizen is entitled to know on what terms the Agreement/settlement has been reached by the petitioner public authority with any other entity or individual.”
The Commission places reliance on the decision of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras in V.V. Mineral v. Director of Geology and Mining, Writ Petition (MD) No.5427/2007 dated 25/06/2007 wherein the following was held:
“11.Therefore, the principal contention that a right accrues to the petitioner to object may be correct in the context if a document is exclusively submitted by any person to the Government authorities such as property statements, income tax returns etc., but in a case of lease deeds and transport permits which emanate from the statutory authorities and where the petitioner cannot be said to be in exclusive possession, he cannot have a right to object to its being divulged as a third party. The lease deeds pertaining to minerals as well as transport permits are not documents prepared or to be kept by a prospecting mine operator but prospecting a mine or mineral is a privilege conferred by the State to the individuals, who accepts the norms prescribed under Mines and Minerals Act 1957 and the rules framed thereunder.
12. In the present case, when the third respondent as an Information Officer, ordering notice to the petitioner and taking their objection and refusing to furnish the documents sought for by a citizen is clearly beyond the scope of the RTI Act. If the information is available with the State and such information is in exclusive custody of the State, the question of seeking any opinion from the third party on such issues may not arise especially, when they are public documents. By disclosure of such information, no privilege or business interests of the petitioner are affected. On the other hand, such a disclosure may help any party to act upon those documents and take appropriate steps.”
The aforesaid observation of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras was upheld in the decision of the Hon’ble High Court of Nagpur in Sunflag Iron & Steel Company Ltd. V. State Information Commission Writ Petition No. 863/ 2012 dated 14.11.2014 wherein, the following was held:
“10. After hearing the learned advocates for the respective parties and considering the judgments referred above, in my view, it cannot be said that in each and every case the notice under Section 19(4) If the decision of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, against which an appeal is preferred relates to information of a third party, the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, shall give a reasonable opportunity of being heard to that third party. of the Act of 2005 is required to be issued to third party and hearing is to be afforded to the third party before any directions for supplying the information are given. The Division Bench of Delhi High Court has considered the scope of Section 11(1) Where a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof on a request made under this Act, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by that third party, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall, within five days from the receipt of the request, give a written notice to such third party of the request and of the fact that the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, intends to disclose the information or record, or part thereof, and invite the third party to make a submission in writing or orally, regarding whether the information should be disclosed, and such submission of the third party shall be kept in view while taking a decision about disclosure of information: of the Act of 2005 and has laid down that the notice is required to be given to third party in case information prima facie is considered as confidential and if it affects the rights of privacy of the third party.
12. If the impugned order is examined in the light of the above referred judgments, it has to be held that the directions given by the Commission to provide the information as sought vide Item no.5 of the application given by the respondent no.1 cannot be said to be an information which can be considered as confidential and in the exclusive possession of the petitioner, it being a Memorandum of Understanding to which the Government of Maharashtra is a party. However, the information sought by the respondent no.4 vide Item No.4 of his application, cannot be provided to the respondent no.4 without hearing the petitioner and considering its objections. The information sought by the respondent no.4 vide Item no.4 of his application, does not specify the documents in respect of which the information is sought and the directions to provide the information on such vague request may prejudice the petitioner.
13. The reliance placed on behalf of the petitioner on the judgment given in the case of R.K. Jain V/s. Union of India & Anr. (cited supra) is misdirected inasmuch as in this case, the information sought related to the annual confidential reports of the third party which objected to the providing of the information. In the judgment given in the case of Surupsingh Hrya Naik V/s. State of Maharashtra & Ors. (cited supra) again the issue was about giving of information relating to the hospital records. In the judgment given in the case of SKIL Infrastructure Private Limited & Anr. V/s. State Information Commissioner & Ors. (cited supra) the issue about supplying the information which was not exclusively in the custody of the third party and which related to the transactions of the State Government, did not fall for consideration.
The judgments relied on behalf of the petitioner do not assist the petitioner. As far as the facts of the present case are concerned, information sought by the respondent no.4 vide item no.5 of his application is concerning the Memorandum of Understanding to which the Government of Maharashtra is party and it cannot be said that the information is exclusively related to the petitioner. The directions issued by the Commission to provide the information to the respondent no.4 sought vide Item no.5 of his application cannot be faulted with.” The RTI Act, 2005 was enacted to ensure greater and effective access of information and progressive and meaningful participation of all concerned. . The preamble also inter alia states "... democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed."
The Commission finds that every action of the government must be actuated in public interest and for larger public good. When a public authority is largely funded by the government, a citizen has every right to know about the utilisation of funds by the public entity in the larger interest of the public. In Mardia Chemical Limited v. Union of India MANU/SC/0323/2004 : (2004) 4 SCC 311, wherein the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India while considering the validity of SARFAESI Act and recovery of non-performing assets by banks and financial institutions in India, had held as under :
“.............it may be observed that though the transaction may have a character of a private contract yet the question of great importance behind such transactions as a whole having far reaching effect on the economy of the country cannot be ignored, purely restricting it to individual transactions more particularly when financing is through banks and financial institutions utilizing the money of the people in general namely, the depositors in the banks and public money at the disposal of the financial institutions. Therefore, wherever public interest to such a large extent is involved and it may become necessary to achieve an object which serves the public purposes, individual rights may have to give way. Public interest has always been considered to be above the private interest. Interest of an individual may, to some extent, be affected but it cannot have the potential of taking over the public interest having an impact in the socio-economic drive of the country...........”
The Commission also draws reference to the judgment of the Division bench of Jharkhand High Court, in State of Jharkhand v. Navin Kumar SInhga and Anr., AIR 2008 Jharkhand 19 dated 08/08/2007, held as under:
“26……..The question therefore that falls for consideration is as to whether disclosure of various documents submitted by the bidders is a trade secret or commercial confidence or intellectual property. Prima facie, we are of the view that once a decision is taken in the matter of grant of tender, there is no justification to keep it secret. People have a right to know the basis on which the decision has been taken. If tenders are invited by the public authority and on the basis of tender documents, the eligibility of a tenderor or a bidder is decided, then those tender documents cannot be secret, that too, after the tender is decided and work order is issued on the ground that it will amount to disclosure of trade secret or commercial confidence. If the authorities of Government refuse to disclose the document, the very purpose of the Act will be frustrated. Moreover, disclosure of information, sought for by the petitioner, cannot and shall not be a trade secret or commercial confidence; rather disclosure of such information shall be in public interest, inasmuch as it will show the transparency in the activities of the Government.
27. ……… Since the tender process is completed and contract has been awarded, it will not influence the contract. Besides the above, a citizen has a right to know the genuineness of a document submitted by the tenderer in the matter of grant of tender for consultancy work or for any other work. As noticed above, the tender process is completed and the contract has been awarded, therefore, it will not influence the contract. In any view of the matter, the document in question cannot be treated as trade secret or commercial confidence. In our considered opinion a contract entered into by the public authority with a private person cannot be treated as confidential after completion of contract.”
The Commission observed that a voluntary disclosure of all information that ought to be displayed in the public domain should be the rule and members of public who having to seek information should be an exception. An open government, which is the cherished objective of the RTI Act, can be realised only if all public offices comply with proactive disclosure norms. Section 4(2) It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information. of the RTI Act mandates every public authority to provide as much information suomotu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including the Internet, so that the public need not resort to the use of RTI Act. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the matter of CBSE and Anr. Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors 2011 (8) SCC 497 held as under:
“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.”
The Commission also observes the Hon’ble Delhi High Court ruling in WP (C) 12714/2009 Delhi Development Authority v. Central Information Commission and Another (delivered on: 21.05.2010), wherein it was held as under:
“16.It also provides that the information should be easily accessible and to the extent possible should be in electronic format with the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be. The word disseminate has also been defined in the explanation to mean - making the information known or communicating the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet, etc. It is, therefore, clear from a plain reading of Section 4 of the RTI Act that the information, which a public authority is obliged to publish under the said section should be made available to the public and specifically through the internet. There is no denying that the petitioner is duty bound by virtue of the provisions of Section 4 of the RTI Act to publish the information indicated 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 4(1)(c) Every public authority shall publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public; on its website so that the public have minimum resort to the use of the RTI Act to obtain the information.”
Furthermore, High Court of Delhi in the decision of General Manager Finance Air India Ltd & Anr v. Virender Singh, LPA No. 205/2012, Decided On: 16.07.2012 had held as under:
“8. The RTI Act, as per its preamble was enacted to enable the citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. An informed citizenry and transparency of information have been spelled out as vital to democracy and to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. The said legislation is undoubtedly one of the most significant enactments of independent India and a landmark in governance. The spirit of the legislation is further evident from various provisions thereof which require public authorities to:
A. Publish inter alia:
i) the procedure followed in the decision making process;
ii) the norms for the discharge of its functions;
iii) rules, regulations, instructions manuals and records used by its employees in discharging of its functions;
iv) the manner and execution of subsidy programmes including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
v) the particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted. [see Section 4(1) (b), (iii), (iv), (v); (xii) & (xiii)].
B. Suo moto provide to the public at regular intervals as much information as possible [see Section 4(2) It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information. ].”
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties, the Commission observed with seriousness that the information sought by the Appellant was withheld without any justifiable reason and therefore, it should be provided forthwith not later than 15 days from the date of receipt of this order. The Commission also advised the Respondent Public Authority to suo motu disclose in the public domain all details relating to commercial contracts entered by the same in the larger public interest and for the ease and convenience of all concerned.
The Appeal stands disposed accordingly.
Citation: Mr. Pankaj Kumar v. Engineering Projects (India) Ltd. In Second Appeal No.:- CIC/MHIPE/A/2017/144107-BJ, Date of Decision: 14.08.2018