Letters written to the Prime Minister – who holds the information as per RTI Act?
The appellant wanted to get the copies of all the letters written to the Prime Minister of India by the office of Governor of Andhra Pradesh. The Public Information Officer (PIO) advised the appellant to approach the office of the Governor for the desired information. Later, on the directions of First Appellate Authority (FAA) he transferred the application to the office of the Governor. The Central Information Commission (CIC) noted that the letters were held in the PMO and as per section 2(f) “information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force; and 2(j) “right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to- (i) inspection of work, documents, records; (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; (iii) taking certified samples of material; (iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device; of the RTI Act, they constitute information and the decision to disclose such information rested entirely on the PIO of the PMO. It would not be right to direct the information seeker to the source of the letters as was done in this case. During the hearing, the PIO submitted that all letters received from various sources were usually marked to different officers within the office and, sometimes, even to other ministries and departments for appropriate action. So, in the absence of any particular reference, either in terms of the date of the letter or the subject matter, it was impossible for the PMO to identify and locate all such letters which the Governor of Andhra Pradesh might have written. Only after identifying and locating all such letters the PIO could decide whether those could be disclosed or not.
View of CIC
The Commission observed that the RTI request was too sweeping in its scope, stretched for a long period of time without any specific references. Thus the PIO cannot be expected to trace each letter from the receipt register and follow it up to its destination and provide it to the appellant. The Commission directed the PIO to make an attempt to identify and locate all or some of the letters and to decide which of those could be disclosed and communicate to the appellant. In case, the PIO decides not to disclose any of these letters, he should pass a speaking order citing the appropriate exemption provision.
In all such cases where one public authority holds letters originating from another public authority, a third party notice under section 11 must be issued to the public authority from whom the letter has originated.
Citation: Mr. T Gangadhar v. Prime Minister’s Office in File No.CIC/SM/A/2011/001183
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/CIC/335
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission