Information pertaining to Mrs. Durga Shakti Nagpal, (IAS) - CIC: The crux of the penalty provisions is that the PIO should have obstructed the supply of the information with intent or should have acted consciously & deliberately to block the information
1. The appellant filed RTI applications on 24.09.2013 seeking copy of letter(s) written by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of U.P.A. to Hon’ble Prime Minister pertaining to the suspension of Mrs. Durga Shakti Nagpal, an IAS Officer of U.P. Cadre, by the Uttar Pradesh Government.
2. The CPIO responded on 29.10.2013. The appellant filed first appeal before the First Appellate Authority (FAA) on 26.10.2013. The FAA responded on 09.12.2013. The appellant filed second appeal before the Commission on 22.04.2014.
3. The appellant participated in the hearing through video conferencing. The respondent participated in the hearing personally.
4. It is stated by the appellant that the interim reply had been provided to him by the respondent in a single line reply that ‘the matter is under process and the sought for information will be provided as soon as received from the concerned department’.
5. It is further stated by the appellant that the First Appellate Authority had directed the CPIO of PM Office that the sought for information be provided expeditiously within 15 working days but the same was not provided to him within stipulated period.
6. It is stated by the appellant that some of the TV News Channels had displayed a copy of the above letter on their Channels.
7. Respondent stated that the inputs were sought for from the concerned office for providing the sought for information to the appellant and on receiving inputs by the office a copy of the inputs/note has been provided to the appellant viz “In the backdrop of the letter written by Smt. Sonia Gandhi, the DoPT is in the process of effecting amendments to AIS (D &A) Rules, 1969 which would subsequently need to be placed before the Cabinet for its consideration/approval. Since, the issue pertains to the Cabinet, it is exempted 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, 2005.”
8. It is stated by the respondent that in compliance of the FAA Order a copy of the sought for information i.e. letter written by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of UPA to the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India on the suspension of Mrs. Durga Shakti Nagpal, an IAS Officer of UP cadre, by the State Government of Uttar Pradesh had been provided to the appellant.
9. Appellant stated that the respondent had never informed him whether the letter in question has ever been a part of the agenda item to be put up before the Cabinet. The appellant stated that the sought for information was wrongly treated by the respondent as Cabinet paper and this may set a bad precedent.
10. It is stated by the appellant that he has received the information after expiry of the period stipulated in the RTI Act. Appellant stated that since the respondent failed to provide the sought for information within the time as prescribed in the RTI Act, a penalty may be imposed on the respondent and compensation may be awarded to him for not providing the sought for information within the stipulated time. The respondent further stated that this has caused a loss to him in his service matters.
11. The sought for information has been provided to the appellant by the respondent.
12. As regards imposition of penalty upon the public information officer and its statutory duties, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of Registrar of Companies & Ors. Vs. Dharmendra Kumar Garg & Anr. (W.P.(C) 11271/2009) decision dated 01.06.2012 held inter alia that: “60. Even if it were to be assumed for the sake of argument, that the view taken by the learned Central Information Commissioner in the impugned order was correct, and that the PIOs were obliged to provide the information, which was otherwise retrievable by the querist by resort to Section 610 of the Companies Act, it could not be said that the information had been withheld malafide or deliberately without any reasonable cause. It can happen that the PIO may genuinely and bonafidely entertain the belief and hold the view that the information sought by the querist cannot be provided for one or the other reasons. Merely because the CIC eventually finds that the view taken by the PIO was not correct, it cannot automatically lead to issuance of a showcause notice under Section 20 of the RTI Act and the imposition of penalty. The legislature has cautiously provided that only in cases of malafides or unreasonable conduct, i.e., where the PIO, without reasonable cause refuses to receive the application, or provide the information, or knowingly gives incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroys the information, that the personal penalty on the PIO can be imposed. This was certainly not one such case. If the CIC starts imposing penalty on the PIOs in every other case, without any justification, it would instill a sense of constant apprehension in those functioning as PIOs in the public authorities, and would put undue pressure on them. They would not be able to fulfill their statutory duties under the RTI Act with an independent mind and with objectivity. Such consequences would not auger well for the future development and growth of the regime that the RTI Act seeks to bring in, and may lead to skewed and imbalanced decisions by the PIOs Appellate Authorities and the CIC. It may even lead to unreasonable and absurd orders and bring the institutions created by the RTI Act in disrepute. For all the aforesaid reasons, I allow the present petition and quash the impugned orders passed by Sh. Shailesh Gandhi, Central Information Commissioner. The parties are left to bear their respective costs.”
13. As regard awarding compensation, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of U.O.I versus CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION &ORS(W.P. (C) 6661/2008) dated 16.04.2009 held inter alia that:
“Further, clothing CIC with such jurisdiction to compensate applicants for general wrongs, without any statutory guidance about the limits, or method of determining such compensation would lead to highly anomalous and unpredictable consequences which the Act did not intend.”
14. Subsequent to the hearing the Commission has seen the file on the subject which bring out that consequent to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s letter and other inputs the need to give protection to officers was discussed and a decision was taken to place the matter before Cabinet.
15. As regard the Cabinet Papers, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of Union of India versus Pramod Kumar Jain (W.P. (C) 14069/2009) dated 19.11.2013 defined inter alia that: “Cabinet Papers” have a wider meaning in the Act. It includes all the papers pertaining to deliberations of the various Committees of the Cabinet, apart from including the papers pertaining to “Records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers”, “records of deliberations of the Secretaries” and “Records of deliberations of other officers”. “Decisions of the Council of Ministers” and “material on the basis of which the decisions were taken” are a just a subset of the larger set of documents encompassed under the larger term “Cabinet Papers”.
16. This Commission is of the considered view that the crux of the penalty provisions is that the PIO should have obstructed the supply of the information with intent or should have acted consciously and deliberately in a manner so as to block the provision of the information. In the instant matter it cannot be said that the PIO acted out of any malice or with intent to deny the information sought by the appellant. It would not be appropriate to impose any penalty upon the respondent and award any compensation to the appellant.
17. In view of the above,
(a) the submissions made by the appellant for the imposition of penalty and the award of compensation are not allowed.
(b) No intervention of the Commission is required in the matter.
The appeal is disposed of. Copy of the decision be given free of cost to the parties.
(Radha Krishna Mathur)
Chief Information Commissioner
Citation: Shri Ashok Khemka v. P.M.Office in Appeal No. CIC/RM/A/2014/904543