Min of Shipping did not respond to third party (section 11) notice sent by Cabinet Secretariat – comments sent after reminder – CIC: PIO should not wait indefinitely for the third party opinion – third party views can't act as a veto against disclosure
1. Referring to a complaint he had made to the Cabinet Secretary on 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. December 2011 which he called a 'Report', the Appellant had sought the copies of all the correspondence made among the Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Shipping and the CVC in this regard. When he did not receive any response from the CPIO within the stipulated period, he filed an appeal. The Appellate Authority had, in his order, directed the CPIO to send an appropriate reply to the Appellant since the Ministry of Shipping had not responded to the section 11 notice sent to it. Unfortunately, it appears, the CPIO did not send any reply to the Appellant and only reminded the Ministry of Shipping to send their comments soon. The Ministry of Shipping sent its comments much later in the month of May 2013 objecting to the disclosure of the desired information on the ground that the enquiry into the complaint was still not complete and that the disclosure of the information would adversely affect the ongoing enquiry. It is only after receiving this belated response from the Ministry of Shipping that the CPIO informed the Appellant towards the end May 2013 that the information could not be disclosed under the provisions of Section 8(1)(h) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders; of the Right to Information Act.
2. The Appellant submitted that, as per his information, all enquiry and investigation into this matter was now complete and, therefore, the entire information should be disclosed. On the other hand, the respondents submitted that the Ministry of Shipping had very clearly stated that the complaint was still under enquiry and the matter had not reached a final conclusion and the disclosure of the information at this stage would adversely affect the enquiry.
3. We have carefully considered the facts of the case. The Appellant had complained against some officials of the Visakhapatnam Port Trust alleging misconduct and irregularities in the matter of some recruitment. He had sent these complaints simultaneously to various authorities including the CVC. It appears the CVC had advised certain course of action in the matter including initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the errant officers. But it is understood that no such proceedings have been initiated or completed yet. Therefore, there is some truth in the claim of the Ministry of Shipping that the enquiry into this matter has not reached any logical conclusion. To that extent, possibly, the disclosure of the correspondence exchanged among the Cabinet Secretariat, CVC and the Ministry of Shipping could impede the process of the disciplinary proceedings as and when these are undertaken. Apart from this, a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of India is also quite pertinent to this case. In its order dated 3 October 2012 in the SLP(C) No. 27734 of 2012 (Girish R Deshpande vs CIC and others), the Supreme Court has held that information relating to disciplinary matters against government employees is qualified to be personal information as defined in section 8(1)(j) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person. of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and should not be ordinarily disclosed. In the present case, undoubtedly, the desired information is about an enquiry into the conduct of some government/Port Trust officials. This information is squarely covered under the above Supreme Court ruling. Unless there is a larger public interest to be served, this information cannot be disclosed because of the operation of the Supreme Court order. Therefore, not only because of the grounds adduced by the Ministry of Shipping but also because of the above Supreme Court ruling, we are not inclined to allow the disclosure of this information.
4. However, we would like to conclude this case with the observation that the CPIO of the Cabinet Secretariat should have been more circumspect and not awaited indefinitely for the opinion of the Ministry of Shipping as he has done in this case. Wherever any section 11 procedure is adopted, it should be initiated soon after receiving the RTI application and a very short time frame should be given to the third party to give its views. In case the third party fails to communicate its views within that time period, the CPIO must decide about the disclosure of the information and not keep waiting for the comments of the third party indefinitely. Besides, needless to say, the intent of section 11 is that a third party has to be consulted; its views cannot act as a veto against disclosure of any information.
Chief Information Commissioner
Citation: Sh. Rednam Deepak v. Cabinet Secretariat in File No.CIC/SM/A/2013/000164