IPO payment of Application fee was in favour of Accounts officer - CBSE: Since the IPO was not drawn in favour of the Secretary, hence no information was provided - CIC: Regulations of CBSE cannot prevail over the rules made under the RTI Act, 2005
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 06 points regarding CBSE whether it was a statutory body or a society, whether all the students who took first admission in the school were generally minors (less than 6 years of age), whether the Byelaws of CBSE Curriculum specially Byelaw 69 (for correction of name and date of birth) had been approved by the Ministry of HRD and issues related thereto. The CPIO, vide its reply, stated that the IPO enclosed with the RTI Application had been incorrectly drawn in favour of the “Account Officer, CBSE” and the same should have been addressed to the “The Secretary, CBSE”. Dissatisfied by the response, the Appellant approached the FAA. The FAA, vide its order dated 16/23.10.2017 while concurring with the response of the CPIO stated that no contact number and mail id was provided in the RTI application to communicate again hence the information was pending at their end.
Facts emerging during the hearing: The following were present: Appellant: Dr. Rakesh Gosain (Adv.) Appellant’s representative; Respondent: Ms. Arvinder Kaur, Asst. Secretary;
The Appellant’s representative reiterated the contents of the RTI application and stated that no information was provided till date by the CPIO/FAA by incorrectly and illegally rejecting his application on the ground that the IPO was drawn in the favour of “Accounts Officer” instead of the Secretary, CBSE. While referring to Rule 6 of the RTI Rules, 2012 and the OM dated 05.12.2008 issued by the DoP&T, the Appellant’s representative alleged malafide on the part of the Respondent by incorrectly denying generic information on the ground that the IPO was not correctly drawn. It was also submitted that the issues relating to change/ correction of name of the children/ parents were raised in the RTI application which pertained to the larger public interest and was also allowed by the Hon’ble High Court of Kerala in the matter of Subin Mohammed vs Union of India in WP (C) No 19207 of 2016 and was not implemented by the CBSE in several other States. In its reply, the Respondent re-iterated the response of the CPIO/ FAA and stated that since the IPO was not drawn in favour of the Secretary, CBSE hence no information was provided. In support of her submission, the Respondent submitted that as per their bye laws, all monetary payments were made in favour of the Secretary, CBSE, hence the fee for RTI application was also received in its favour for all the applicants. On a query from the Commission, whether this information was displayed on its website, the Respondent replied in the affirmative. The Appellant vehemently contested the aforementioned submission and stated that under no circumstances the bye laws issued by a Society (if any) could override the Rules framed under the RTI Act, 2005 which was a legislation passed in the Parliament of India.
Having heard both the parties and on perusal of the available records, the Commission at the outset observed that the issues raised in the RTI application were generic in nature and pertained to the larger public interest of students/ parents which should be suo motu disclosed in the Public Domain. 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. ].”
Above all the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the decision of R.B.I. and Ors. V. Jayantilal N. Mistry and Ors, Transferred Case (Civil) No. 91 of 2015 (Arising out of Transfer Petition (Civil) No. 707 of 2012 decided on 16.12.2015 had held as under:
“The ideal of ‘Government by the people’ makes it necessary that people have access to information on matters of public concern. The free flow of information about affairs of Government paves way for debate in public policy and fosters accountability in Government. It creates a condition for ‘open governance’ which is a foundation of democracy.
The Commission also referred to the judgement of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Mujibur Rehman vs Central Information Commission (W.P. (C) 3845/2007)(Dated 28 April, 2009) wherein it had been held as under:
“14.......The court cannot be unmindful of the circumstances under which the Act was framed, and brought into force. It seeks to foster an "openness culture" among state agencies, and a wider section of "public authorities" whose actions have a significant or lasting impact on the people and their lives. Information seekers are to be furnished what they ask for, unless the Act prohibits disclosure; they are not to be driven away through sheer inaction or filibustering tactics of the public authorities or their officers. It is to ensure these ends that time limits have been prescribed, in absolute terms, as well as penalty provisions. These are meant to ensure a culture of information disclosure so necessary for a robust and functioning democracy.”
Furthermore, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court decision in J P Aggarwal v. Union of India (WP (C) no. 7232/2009 it has held that:
“The PIO is expected to apply his / her mind, duly analyse the material before him / her and then either disclose the information sought or give grounds for non-disclosure.”
A reference was drawn to the decision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of J.P Agrawal v. Union of India-2013(287) ELT25(Del.) wherein it was held as under:
7.“it is the PIO to whom the application is submitted and it is who is responsible for ensuring that the information as sought is provided to the applicant within the statutory requirements of the Act. Section 5(4) is simply to strengthen the authority of the PIO within the department; if the PIO finds a default by those from whom he has sought information. The PIO is expected to recommend a remedial action to be taken”. The RTI Act makes the PIO the pivot for enforcing the implementation of the Act.”
Furthermore, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of R.K. Jain vs Union of India, LPA No. 369/2018, dated 29.08.2018, held as under:
“9………………………….. That apart, the CPIO being custodian of the information or the documents sought for, is primarily responsible under the scheme of the RTI Act to supply the information and in case of default or dereliction on his part, the penal action is to be invoked against him only. The Appellate Authority is not the custodian of the information or the document. It is only a statutory authority to take a decision on an appeal with regard the tenability or otherwise of the action of the CPIO and, therefore, there is a conscious omission in making the Appellate Authority liable for a penal action under Section 20 of the RTI Act and if that be the scheme of the Act and the legislative intention, we see no error in the order passed by the learned writ Court warranting reconsideration.”
As regards the submission of the Respondent that the RTI Fee was required to be paid by way of an IPO in favour of Secretary, CBSE and not the Accounts Officer, no satisfactory response was provided regarding the rule/ regulation/ guidelines specifically framed in this regard for RTI matters. In the absence of any such regulation/ bye law being highlighted by the Respondent present during the hearing, the question of CBSEs regulations prevailing over the rules made under the RTI Act, 2005 does not arise at all. Rule 6 (2) of the RTI Rules, 2012 clearly stipulates that Fees under the Rules may be paid in any of the following manner, namely:-(b) by demand draft or bankers cheque or Indian Postal Order payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority. Furthermore, the OM issued by the DoP&T dated 05.12.2008 specifically addresses the issues raised in the instant matter. The relevant extract of the OM is as under:
“Refusal to accept an application on the ground that the demand draft/ banker’s cheque/ IPO submitted by the applicant has been drawn in the name of the Accounts Officer may amount to refusal to accept the application. It may result into imposition of penalty by the Central Information Commission on the concerned Central Public Information Officer under Section 20 of the Act. All the public authorities should therefore ensure that payment of fee by demand draft/ banker’s cheque/ IPO made payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority is not denied.”
Moreover, as regards the plea taken by the Respondent regarding non-submission of fees in the prescribed mode, the Commission referred to the judgement of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the matter of Union of India vs. Vansh Sharad Gupta in W.P(C) 4761/2016 wherein it was held that the technical approach undertaken by the Public Authorities for not filing the RTI application in a prescribed form and with the RTI fees could not be allowed in the way of substantial justice. The relevant observations made in the judgement are as under:
“3. In the present writ petition, it has been averred that the respondent never filed an RTI application in the prescribed form and the requisite fee. It is also stated that the respondent did not file the first appeal and hence the second appeal could not have been entertained by the CIC.
4. This Court is not an appellate Court of the CIC. Technical and procedural arguments cannot be allowed to come in the way of substantial justice. The directions given by the CIC in the impugned order are not only fair and reasonable but also promote the concept of rule of law. It is unfortunate that the petitioner did not take the initiative on its own to upload the latest amended bare Acts”
With regard to the imposition of penalty on the CPIO/PIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act, 2005, the Commission took note of the ruling of Hon’ble Delhi High Court in W.P.(C) 11271/2009 Registrar of Companies & Ors v. Dharmendra Kumar Garg & Anr. (delivered on: 01.06.2012) wherein it was held:
“ 61. 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 ful fill 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.”
Similarly, the following observation of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Bhagat Singh v. CIC & Ors. WP(C) 3114/2007 are pertinent in this matter:
“17. This Court takes a serious note of the two year delay in releasing information, the lack of adequate reasoning in the orders of the Public Information Officer and the Appellate Authority and the lack of application of mind in relation to the nature of information sought. The materials on record clearly show the lackadaisical approach of the second and third respondent in releasing the information sought. However, the Petitioner has not been able to demonstrate that they malafidely denied the information sought. Therefore, a direction to the Central Information Commission to initiate action under Section 20 of the Act, cannot be issued.
Furthermore, the High Court of Delhi in the decision of Col. Rajendra Singh v. Central Information Commission and Anr. WP (C) 5469 of 2008 dated 20.03.2009 had held as under:
“Section 20, no doubt empowers the CIC to take penal action and direct payment of such compensation or penalty as is warranted. Yet the Commission has to be satisfied that the delay occurred was without reasonable cause or the request was denied malafidely. ……The preceding discussion shows that at least in the opinion of this Court, there are no allegations to establish that the information was withheld malafide or unduly delayed so as to lead to an inference that petitioner was responsible for unreasonably withholding it.”
The Commission also observed that the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of R.K. Jain v. V.P. Pandey, CPIO, CESTAT, New Delhi in W.P. (C) No. 4785/ 2017 dated 10.10.2017 adjudicated the correctness of an order of the Commission dated 17.04.2017 whereby the Respondent was cautioned to exercise due care in future and to ensure that correct and complete information is furnished to the RTI applicants. It was decided that:
“2. The grievance of the petitioner is that although the CIC had accepted that there was a delay in providing the necessary information to the petitioner, the CIC had not imposed the penalty as required under Section 20(1) Where the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be, at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion that the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, has, without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified under sub-section (1) of section 7 or malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroyed information which was the subject of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information, it shall impose a penalty of two hundred and fifty rupees each day till application is received or information is furnished, so however, the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed twenty-five thousand rupees: Provided that the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before any penalty is imposed on him: Provided further that the burden of proving that he acted reasonably and diligently shall be on the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be. of the Right to Information Act, 2005. It is well settled that imposing of the penalty is a discretionary measure. In Anand Bhushan v. R.A. Haritash: ILR (2012) 4 Delhi 657 a division bench of this Court had considered the question whether the levy of penalty was discretionary and held as under..........
3. In this case it is apparent that the CIC had in its discretion considered that a order cautioning the CPIO would be sufficient. This Court is not inclined to interfere with such exercise of discretion.”
Furthermore, the Hon’ble High Court in the matter of R.K. Jain v. CIC and Anr. in W.P.(C) 4152/2017 dated 10.10.2017 had held as under:
“5. The question whether the CIC had the discretion to restrict the penalty or whether penalty as provided under Section 20 of the Act is mandatory, is no longer res integra. The said question was considered by a Division Bench of this Court in Anand Bhushan v. R.A. Haritash: ILR (2012) 4 Delhi 657 and the relevant extract of the said decision is set out below....
6. In view of the above, this Court finds no reason to interfere with the discretion exercised by the CIC. The petition is, accordingly, dismissed.”
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties and in the light of the decisions cited above, the Commission instructs the Respondent to provide point wise information to the Appellant and update the details of the authority to whom the IPO should be addressed as per the provisions of the RTI Rules, 2012 and DoP&T’s notification dated 05.12.2008 within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order. The CPIO is however, cautioned to exercise due care in future to ensure that correct and complete information is furnished timely to the RTI applicant(s) as per provisions of the Act failing which penal proceedings under Section 20 shall be initiated The Appeal stands disposed accordingly.
Citation: Mr. Dinesh Khurana v. CPIO Central Board of Secondary Education in Second Appeal No.:- CIC/CBSED/A/2017/176040-BJ, Date of Decision : 05.12.2018