Information regarding certified copy of MOU signed by LIC of India & Indian Railways was denied u/s 8 (1) (d) - CIC: Furnish information in public interest in the form of a synopsis defining the broad contours of the agreement
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information regarding certified copy of MOU signed by LIC of India and Indian Railways with reference to the news pertaining to commitment of Rs. 1.5 Lakh Crore by LIC to Indian Railways for the development of various commercially viable projects and issues related thereto. The CPIO and Executive Director (RTI) vide its letter dated 05.05.2015, denied disclosure of information as per Section 8 (1) (d) of the RTI Act, 2005. Dissatisfied by the response of the CPIO, the Appellant approached the FAA. The FAA, vide its order dated 29.06.2015 upheld the response of the CPIO.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Appellant: Mr. N. Saini (M: 09826097030) through VC;
Respondent: Mr. P. R. Mishra, Secretary (RTI), LIC Central Office, Mumbai (M: 8291416255); Mr. Surendra Mohan, Chief of Investment (M:9819469511) and Mrs. Anjali Deshpande, AO (M:8108156966) through VC;
The Appellant reiterated the contents of his RTI application and stated that substantive information had not been provided to him, till date. The Respondent informed the Commission that in the aforesaid case, hearing in the matter had already been conducted on 26.08.2015, however the Appellant was not present at the time of the hearing. The Appellant confirmed to the submission made by the Respondent in this regard and stated that vide orders of the High Court, the hearing before the Commission had been re-scheduled to the present date. However, the Commission was not in possession of any authentic records in this regard. In its reply, the Respondent submitted that the information sought by the Appellant regarding copy of MOU signed between LIC and the Indian Railways was exempted from disclosure as per section 8 (1) (d) of the RTI Act, 2005 since the information was commercially sensitive and could harm the competitive position of LIC of India. A reference was also made by the Respondent to the decisions of the Commission in CIC/DS/A/2012/002760 dated 11.10.2013 and CIC/VS/A/201/000924/SH dated 09.07.2014 in support of its contention. The Appellant argued that the copy of MOU ought to be made available to him since the LIC of India was a public authority and public money was utilised for fulfilling the obligations of the agreement. It was further submitted that exemption under Section 8 (1) (d) was unjustified. In reply, the Respondent explained that the information sought pertained to their investment decisions and all regulatory compliances as per IRDA regulations had been undertaken by them before entering into the MOU. During the course of hearing, the Respondent also submitted that disclosure of information would cause harm to the competitive position of the third party i.e., Indian Railways. On a query from the Commission regarding whether any press release was issued by the Respondent Authority at the time of entering into the MOU, the Respondent feigned ignorance. Having heard both the parties, the Commission observed that the document sought by the appellant is a copy of the MOU entered into between LIC of India and Indian Railways. As admitted by the respondent, the joint venture agreement was entered between two Public authorities and no private entity was involved as such in the matter.
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, quoted by the Appellant, 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 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 investments carried out 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...........”
At this juncture, the decision of the Commission in Venkatesh Nayak v. Shri P.K. Yadav, CPIO, NTPC, New Delhi CIC/CC/A/2014/002901-YA dated 15.02.2016 can also be referred to. The aforesaid decision related to a query pertaining to disclosure of a joint venture agreement between NTPC and Ceylon Electricity Board. The Commission directed for furnishing information on appellant’s query in public interest by providing consolidated information in the form of project synopsis, by the Respondent.
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties, the Commission instructs the Respondent to furnish information in public interest in the form of a synopsis to the Appellant with a copy to the Commission defining the broad contours of the agreement, as every citizen had the right to know the fundamental principles governing the Memorandum of Understanding. This information should be furnished, within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order. The Appeal stands disposed with the above direction.
Citation: Mr. N. Saini v. LIC of India in Appeal No.:-CIC/MP/A/2015/001964-BJ Date of Decision : 08.05.2017