PIO/CPIO cannot function merely as post offices, have to give reasons for non-disclosure of information sought under RTI Act
Rakesh Kuamr Gupta Vs CIC
Central Information Commission
W.P. (C) 900/2021
About/from the judgment:
A Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) cannot function merely as "post office" and has to ensure that information sought under the Right To Information (RTI) Act is provided.
The Court explained that a CPIO has to apply his/her mind, analyze the material, and then direct disclosure or give reasons for non-disclosure.
The Court also ruled that such other officers from whom assistance may be sought would also be treated as CPIOs under Section 5(5) of the RTI Act.
CPIOs have a "solemn responsibility" in terms of Section 5(3) of the RTI Act, which requires them to deal with requests for information and render "reasonable assistance" to the persons seeking information, the Court said.
Relying on an array of judgments, the Court also culled out the principles pertaining to the role of CPIOs under the RTI Act.
-> CPIO/PIOs cannot withhold information without reasonable cause;
-> A PIO/CPIO cannot be held responsible if they have genuinely rejected the information sought on valid grounds permissible under the Act.
-> Mere difference of opinion on the part of CIC cannot lead to an imposition of penalty under section 20 of the RTI Act;
-> Government departments ought not to be permitted to evade disclosure of information. Diligence has to be exercised by the said departments, by conducting a thorough search and enquiry, before concluding that the information is not available or traceable;
-> Every effort should be made to locate information, and the fear of disciplinary action would work as a deterrent against suppression of information for vested interests;
-> The PIO cannot rely upon subordinate officers;
>- Duty of compliance lies upon the PIO/CPIO. The exercise of power by the PIO/CPIO has to be with objectivity and seriousness the PIO/CPIO cannot be casual in their approach.
The Court passed the order in a petition filed by two CPIOs (petitioners) at Union Bank, challenging an order passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC).
Vide the impugned order, penalties amounting to Rs. 10,000 each were imposed upon the petitioners for providing incomplete and evasive response to an RTI application.
Initially, the information was refused by the petitioners on the grounds that it was exempt from being disclosed under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act for being being an internal document of commercial confidence. After the show cause notice was issued by the CIC in appeal, the petitioners took a completely different stand and stated that the information sought could not be found on the record.
The CIC came to the conclusion that there was variance in the replies given by the CPIOs and in spite of lapse of more than two and a half years, the information had not been provided. Finding mala fides on behalf of the petitioners, the CIC imposed a penalty against them under Section 20 of the RTI Act.
Refusing to interfere with the order passed by the CIC, the Court stated that CPIOs are expected to fulfil an important responsibility while furnishing the said required information, in a fair, non-arbitrary, and truthful manner. The judgment reads,
"The organisation, as a whole, also has to cooperate in the functioning of the CPIOs...a change in stand would go on to show that there was an intention to withhold certain important documents or information, leading to the finding of mala fides and unreasonable conduct. It is under these circumstances that the CIC has held the CPIOs responsible and imposed a penalty amounting to Rs. 10,000/- each. In the opinion of this Court, the impugned order passed by the CIC does not warrant any interference."
However, considering the fact that both the CPIOs have since retired from the service, the penalty was reduced to Rs 5,000 each.
Read the Judgment
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