Karnataka Information Commissioner to pay costs of Rs. 1 lakh for frivolous filing of appeal
In the first case of its kind, an Information Commissioner has been directed to pay costs of Rs 1 lakh by the Apex Court for filing a frivolous petition. This judgment has wide ramifications for the transparency movement in the country. We bring to you the facts of the case and seek your comments.
Let us first have a look into the background of the case.
An application was filed under Section 6(1) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 seeking certain information from the Public Information Officer - Deputy Registrar (Establishment) of the High Court of Karnataka. The applicant requested for certified copies of some information/ documents regarding guidelines and rules pertaining to scrutiny and classification of writ petitions and the procedure followed by the Karnataka High Court in respect of Writ Petition Nos.26657 of 2004 and 17935 of 2006.
Vide order dated 3.8.2007, the PIO informed that the information sought is available in the Karnataka High Court Act and the Rules and the certified copies of the order sheets of the two writ petitions may be obtained by filing appropriate application under the High Court Rules.
The applicant filed a complaint dated 17.1.2008 under Section 18 of the RTI Act before the Karnataka SIC complaining that the certified copies of the documents had not been made available to him in spite of payment of the requisite fees as per the RTI Act. The SIC allowed the complaint and directed the PIO to furnish the High Court Act, Rules and certified copies of order sheets free of cost.
The PIO challenged the order of the SIC through a Writ Petition No.9418/2008 and the Single Judge quashed the order of the SIC holding as under.
- The Karnataka High Court Act and Rules made thereunder are available in market. If not available, the applicant has to obtain copies of the same from the publishers and it is not open for him to ask for copies of the same from the petitioner.
- The impugned order in respect of the same is illegal and arbitrary.
- The applicant is a party to Writ Petition No.26657/2004 and Writ Petition No. 17935/2006 and it is open for the respondent to file an application for certified copies of the order sheet or the relevant documents for obtaining the same according to the Rules of the High Court. (See Chapter-17 of Karnataka High Court Rules, 1959).
- As it is open for the applicant to obtain certified copies of the order sheet pending as well as the disposed of matters, the SIC is not justified in directing the petitioner to furnish copies of the same free of costs and the order has passed without application of mind to the relevant Rules of the High Court.
The applicant did not challenge the order but the SIC filed an appeal along with an application for condonation of delay of 335 days. The Division Bench dismissed the application for condonation of delay and also held that the Commission cannot be treated as an aggrieved person.
A special leave petition was filed by Information Commissioner at the Karnataka Information Commission (SIC) challenging the order passed by the Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court dated 15.6.2012 in Writ Appeal No.3255/2010 (GM-RES) titled Karnataka Information Commission v. State Public Information Officer and before the Supreme Court.
Observations of the Division bench of the Supreme Court:
- The writ appeal at the High Court was filed by the SIC while the special leave petition has been preferred by the Karnataka Information Commissioner.
- There is no explanation as to how the Karnataka Information Commissioner who was not an appellant before the Division Bench of the High Court, can challenge the impugned order.
- The locus of the SIC to file appeal against the order of the learned Single Judge of HC whereby its order had been set aside is not explained.
- Nothing prevented the RTI applicant from challenging the order of the HC if he felt aggrieved by the same.
- The writ appeal filed by the SIC was totally unwarranted and misconceived and the Division Bench of the High Court did not commit any error by dismissing the same.
The Supreme Court dismissed the special leave petition holding that:
- The entire exercise undertaken by the Karnataka SIC and the Karnataka Information Commissioner to challenge the orders of the learned Single Judge and the Division Bench of the High Court shows that the concerned officers have wasted public money for satisfying their ego.
- The Commission and the Karnataka Information Commissioner had no legitimate cause to challenge the order passed by the learned Single Judge and the Division Bench of the High Court.
- For filing a frivolous petition, exemplary cost of Rs.1,00,000/- (One lakh only) was imposed on the petitioner to be deposited within a period of 2 months.
The judgment raises several questions which need to be answered.
- The basic issue has been lost in the legal tangle i.e. Is the procedure prescribed under the High Court Act and Rules inconsistent with the provisions of the RTI Act? Does a citizen have the right to choose under what Act he can file an application for obtaining information? Does excess fee or the tedious process of obtaining information tantamount to inconsistency as per section 22 The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. of the RTI Act?
- The Karnataka and Bombay High Courts have asked the Information Commission to take up the role of a respondent in many cases. If that be the case, should the Information Commissioner not assume the role which the Commission is expected to play?
- Do the Information Commissions not have a duty to pursue and champion the provisions of the RTI Act? Can an appeal filed by the Information Commissioner not be treated as an equivalent to a PIL filed by a citizen?
- Under section 19(1) Any person who, does not receive a decision within the time specified in sub¬section (1) or clause (a) of sub-section (3) of section 7, or is aggrieved by a decision of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, may within thirty days from the expiry of such period or from the receipt of such a decision prefer an appeal to such officer who is senior in rank to the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer as the case may be, in each public authority: Provided that such officer may admit the appeal after the expiry of the period of thirty days if he or she is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal in time. of the RTI Act, “Any person…” can file an appeal if he is aggrieved with the order issued under the Act. Should this analogy not be extended to the higher courts?
- It is not apparent who guided the Information Commissioner to file a petition in his personal capacity. However, costs of Rs. 1 lakh appears to be high and is likely to provoke a counter charge of the judicial “ego” getting an upper hand now.
Bench: MR. JUSTICE G.S. SINGHVI HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE H.L. GOKHALE
Item No.30 Court No.4 Section IVA
Special Leave to Appeal (Civil)....../2013 CC 1853/2013 arising from the judgement and order dated 15/06/2012 in WA No.3255/2010 of The High Court of Karnataka at Bangalore titled Karnataka Information Commissioner Versus State Public Information Officer & Anr.
The copy of the Supreme Court order is also available at: http://www.rtifoundationofindia.com/SupremeCourt_2013.pdf
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2013/CIC/1014
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission