Decide RTI complaints on merit: Delhi HC to CIC

The CIC cannot leave the disposal of complaint filed by an RTI applicant on the public authority, Delhi High Court has held.

New Delhi: The CIC cannot leave the disposal of complaint filed by an RTI applicant on the public authority as it is obligatory for the panel to decide on merit of the plea, Delhi High Court has held.

Hearing a complaint filed by an activist, Justice V K Jain said it was obligatory for the Central Information Commission to decide a complaint on its merit instead of simply directing the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) to provide information which the complainant had sought.

Activist R K Jain had alleged that some information commissioners in the CIC were deciding complaints under section 18 of the RTI in a summary fashion and sending it back to CPIOs concerned, directing them to disclose information.

Under the RTI, there are two separate sections -- 18 for filing of complaint in case no information or incomplete information has been provided in 30 days mandatory period and 19 under which second appeal can be filed for disclosure of information.

In section 18, CIC can initiate penalty proceedings, carry on inquiry but cannot order disclosure of information, according to Supreme Court directives which said disclosure of information can only be ordered through second appeal route under section 19.

In one such complaint filed by R K Jain, the CIC adapted the same procedure and issued notice to CPIO of the public authority directing to disclose information.

The activist approached High Court saying he only wanted penalty proceeding against the CPIO for non disclosure of the information as per the directions of the Supreme Court.

The Commission, however, had ruled, "In order to avoid multiple proceedings under sections 18 and 19 of the RTI Act, viz., complaints and appeals, this case is remitted to CPIO, Customs Excise & Service Tax, Appellate Tribunal, New Delhi.

Hearing the matter, Justice Jain said: "Section 18 of the Act, to the extent it is relevant, provides that it shall be the duty of the Commission to receive and enquire into a complaint from any person who has been refused access to any information requested under the Act or who has not been given a response to a request for information or access to information within the time limits specified under the Act."

"It is, therefore, obligatory for the Commission to decide such a complaint on merit instead of simply directing the CPIO to provide information which the complainant had sought," Justice Jain held.

Justice Jain said that while considering complaint under
section 18, Commission cannot direct the CPIO concerned to provide information and such a power can only be exercised when a Second Appeal has been made under Sub-section (3) of Section 19.

The court said the activist, Jain, in his complaint before the Commission had cited Supreme Court judgement but the Information Commissioner did not mention it in its order.

"A perusal of the impugned order would show that the Commission either did not at all advert to the above referred decision or for the reasons which cannot be gathered from the order, it decided not to refer to the aforesaid decision of the Apex Court in the impugned order," the High Court said.

It noted in the order that Jain had claimed that such orders have been passed by the Commission in a number of cases despite its attention specifically drawn to the authoritative pronouncement of the Apex Court.

"It is expected that the Commission henceforth will decide the complaints on merits instead of directing the CPIO to provide the information which the complainant had sought.

"Of course, it would be open to the Commission to give such a direction while entertaining a second appeal under Sub-section (3) of Section 19 of the Act," it said.

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