Information relating to a policy decision of MoS having a direct bearing on JNIL was denied u/s 8(1)(d) of RTI Act - CIC: A public authority is under an obligation to provide reasons for its administrative decisions to the affected persons u/s 4(1)(d)
Information sought and Background of the appeal:
Vide RTI application dated 15.10.2012, the appellant, who is serving as Deputy General Manager sought information regarding a policy decision taken by respondent whereof supply of iron ore to M/s Jaiswal Neco Industries Ltd. (JNIL) was curtailed. It would be profitable to refer to the RTI application for a background of the case:
“ 1. On 11.10.2001, a meeting was held in the office of Chairman, SAIL between Principal Secretary of Mineral Resource Department of State of Chhattisgarh, Additional Director Industries of Chhattisgarh, High Level officers of Monnet Ispat and Director of JNIL. In this meeting the Chairman, SAIL made a categorical commitment that SAIL can start supplying iron ore to JNIL from the day Mining Lease is granted to SAIL
2. Various representations and policy decisions were taken by the various ministries and Government Department for reservation of the Rowghat Area in favour of SAIL as to supply iron ore to JNIL.
3. On 17.01.2005, your Ministry under the approval of the Hon’ble Steel Minister writes to Ministry of Mines stating that the matter has been reexamined and your ministry is of the opinion that entire ‘F’ Block be again reserved in favour of SAIL and whatever iron ore is required by JNIL shall be supplied by BSP on Cost Plus basis.
4. Under the policy adopted by the central and State Government a notification under section 17A(1A) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation)Act, 1957 was issued on 20.07.2006 reserving ‘F’ block deposit of Rowghat area in Distt Kanker and Bastar in the State of Chhattisgarh in favour of Steel Authority of India Ltd. (SAIL) admittedly on the condition/written promise/commitment that SAIL (through Bhilai Steel Plant – BSP ) would immediately commence supply of iron ore from its existing mines to Jayaswal Neco Industries Ltd.
5. Suddenly in reply to various representations of JNIL, your Ministry vide its reply dated 12.09.2008 took an U-Turn and turned volte-face to its commitment of supply of iron ore to JNIL on cost plus basis by SAIL/BSP Information required: Following specific information is sought with respect to the background of information mentioned above:
1. Please provide the copies of minutes of meeting held by your Ministry from 01.01.2005 to 31.12.2008 which made your ministry to take a Uturn in the matter.
2. Please provide the copies of orders and decisions which your ministry have passed from 01.01.2005 to 31.12.2008 with respect to denial of supply of iron ore to JNIL
3. Please provide the copies of all the letters and correspondences which your ministry has exchanged with Ministry of Mines, SAIL and BSP from 01.01.2005 to 31.12.2008 with respect to denial of supply of iron ore to JNIL.
4. Any other information/correspondence/communication in connection with aforesaid queries raised by the applicant.”
The CPIO replied on 30.10.2012 asking for details of meetings referred to in the RTI application. Vide reply dated 23.01.2013 the respondent declined to furnish any information invoking 8(1)(d). Relevant extract is reproduced hereinafter:
“The information requested by you contains information related to third party as per the provision of Article 2(n) “third party” means a person other than the citizen making a request for information and includes a public authority. of Right to Information Act. The comments were sought from the third party and third party has informed that since the information is of commercial in nature and would have a bearing on its competitiveness, it may be denied under section 8(1)(d).”
This Commission dealt with the aforesaid RTI application in File No. CIC/LS/A/2013/001096 and disposed the same vide order dated 22.07.2013. The relevant extracts are reproduced hereinafter:
“2. In the RTI application dated 15.10.2012, the appellant has referred to various meetings held by the representatives of Jayaswal Neco Industries Limited (JNIL) during the period 2001 and 2005 in which a solemn understanding is purported to have been given to JNIL that adequate supplies of iron ore would be made to it by SAIL but the Ministry / SAIL reneged on its promise in 2008. …………………………………….
4. However, during the hearing, Shri Rajput submits that the First Appellate Authority has not yet passed an order on the first appeal and requests the Commission to remand the matter to First Appellate Authority for deciding the appeal. 5. In view of the above, I hereby direct the First Appellate Authority in the Ministry of Steel to pass an appropriate order on the first appeal filed by the appellant, preferably after giving an opportunity of hearing to him, in 04 weeks time. The appellant, however, will have the liberty to move this Commission again if he is dissatisfied with the decision of the First Appellate Authority.”
In pursuance of aforesaid directions passed by this Commission, the FAA dismissed the appeal on 11.02.2013. Feeling aggrieved, the appellant approached the Commission again, in terms of the liberty granted earlier.
Relevant facts emerging during hearing:
Both parties are present and heard. The appellant states that JNIL had set up a steel plant under the Special Incentive Scheme of GoI upon an assurance given by respondent ministry that adequate supply of iron ore would be made by SAIL, however, the respondent as well as SAIL reneged from the understanding, to the commercial detriment of the appellant. In this factual backdrop, the appellant states to have sought information regarding the factors whereby a policy revision was undertaken by the respondents. Per contra, the respondent aver that the disclosure of information would adversely affect the competitive position of a 3rd party i.e. Steel Authority of India Limited. Upon a query from the Commission as to whether interests of M/s Jayaswal Neco Ind. Ltd. are involved or not, the respondent confirms that the appellant is indeed an interested party. Ld. Counsel appearing for appellant draws the attention of Commission towards the decisions in CIC/MA/C/2007/00181, wherein a coordinate bench of this Commission has already dealt with the matter elaborately. He states that JNIL employs more than ten thousand workers; whose livelihood is at stake; hence the disclosure is warranted due to involvement of wider public interest.
After hearing parties at length and perusal of record, the Commission finds the present issue to be no longer res integra in view of the decision of this Commission in CIC/MA/C/2007/00183 wherein it was observed as follows:
“9. The respondent is expected to design policies and frame the rules of the game in a manner that all the participants from the public and private sectors would have a fair chance to conduct the business and commercial activities.
10. In the instant case, the respondent has seemingly played a partisan role. On the one hand the appellant’s company was assured of continuous supply of iron ore on the understanding that a particular area would be leased in favour of the SAIL/BSP for mining purposes, on the other hand it neither honoured its own commitment nor provided the opportunity of mining the identified area. Even when the commitment was belied a decision was taken in favour of the appellant’s company to grant the lease for mining, which again was reverted on the same assurance that the appellant’s company would be provided uninterrupted supply of iron ore. But, it was not done. In effect, thus, neither the promised raw material was supplied nor right of lease mining was provided to the appellant, which has resulted in huge losses due to inconsistent and ineffective policy decision of the respondent.
11. Clearly, the respondent’s policy decision in the matter of reservation of the said area for mining purpose in favour of BSP/SAIL, without the promised support to the appellant’s company has been discriminatory in practice. Such an approach of the respondent is not conducive for promoting competitiveness among the commercial and business organizations, which require a level playing field to operationalise their activities.
12. It is also unfair on the part of the respondent to speak of safeguarding the interests of SAIL only on the grounds of commercial confidence while ignoring the interest of the appellant’s company, which was invited to set up plant under Special Incentive Scheme to conduct industrial activities on competitive basis. Therefore, exemption claimed u/s 8(1) of the Act, is un-tenable. There is, therefore, no reason as to why the information asked for should not be disclosed to the appellant.”
It is further added that the information asked for; closely relates to a policy decision of respondent having a direct bearing on the appellant (JNIL). Thus the reliance placed upon section 8(1)(d)of RTI Act by the respondent is grossly misplaced. Rather, a public authority is under an obligation to provide reasons for its administrative decisions to the affected persons as per mandate of section 4(1)(d) Every public authority shall provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons. of the RTI Act without the affected persons specifically asking for the same. It is not open for this Commission to examine the correctness of a policy decision taken by the respondent but at the same time, I see no legal impediment in disclosure of consultative process alongwith reasons of a policy decision which is already in vogue adversely affecting the appellant. Further, the respondents have grossly failed to discharge the burden cast by Section 19(5) In any appeal proceedings, the onus to prove that a denial of a request was justified shall be on the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, who denied the request. of the RTI Act, 2005. Accordingly, the impugned order passed by FAA is set aside and the respondent is directed to furnish complete information as sought by the appellant, free of cost. This order shall be complied within 2 weeks of receipt under intimation to the Commission. The appeal is allowed accordingly.
Citation: Shri Randhir Javery v. Ministry of Steel in F. No.CIC/SS/A/2013/003008-YA