Mumbai: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has issued a show-cause notice to the Mumbai IMD's chief public information officer (CPIO) for including GST in the fees that he asked a city-based activist to pay in advance for furnishing information under the RTI.
In the order passed on February 5, the CIC also said that the demand of GST charges made by the CPIO is "illegal and unreasonable" and observed that a public authority cannot quote a price for the information treating it as goods or service of sellable nature.
RTI activist Chetan Kothari had filed a query on September 9, 2017 seeking details of all warnings/red alerts issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the reason of such warning/ alerts for heavy rain, earthquake, cyclone, storm, etc, the place for which it was issued, and whether it turned to be true or false.
"When I sought the information, CPIO Bishwombhar first argued that the application was incomplete. When I cleared my position through e-mail, then on November 2, 2017 he asked me to deposit Rs 5,808, including Rs 886 GST charges in advance, as the information was voluminous in nature," Kothari said.
"I was shocked when I was asked to deposit GST as it never fell in the ambit of either goods or services," he added.
Kothari said that when he challenged this in his first appeal, it was summarily rejected, after which he decided to file the second appeal.
CIC M Sridhar Acharyulu, in the hearing held on February 5, found that demanding GST was not only illegal, but also unreasonable.
In the three-page order, Acharyulu observed, "Such an imposition of (Goods and Services) tax was not legally supported. Public authority cannot quote a price for the information treating it as goods or service of sellable nature."
"Besides, giving information is not even service, being transparent is the inherent duty of public authority and CPIO can only collect the cost of copying charges, so that the government exchequer is not affected. Therefore, the demand of GST charges made by the CPIO is illegal and unreasonable."
The commission issued a notice to the CPIO and asked why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for not furnishing the information within the prescribed timeline and for demanding GST charges from the appellant for the information sought.
The commission has sought CPIO's response by March 5, when the matter will be next heard.
Welcoming the commission's observation, Kothari said, "I wanted to know the rate of accuracy of the IMD's warnings/alerts, which is why I had filed this query."