Information commissioners reject large number of appeals by quibbling about definition of ‘information’ under RTI Act
‘Why no action has been taken on my file’ – isn’t that a legitimate question under RTI?
ICs also question ‘intentions’ of applicants even though law says intentions are immaterial
New Delhi, Oct. 29: ‘Information sought does not fall within the definition of “information” under RTI Act’ seems to have become a very common reason of information commissioners in denying information to the applicant.
At Central Information Commission (CIC), M M Ansari rejected 134 cases on this ground, almost 8% of the total cases decided by him. Shailesh Gandhi rejected 42 cases on this ground, almost five percent of the cases decided by him, according to the nationwide study of information commissions conducted by National RTI Awards Secretariat.
Information on questions like – ‘what action has been taken on my complaint’, ‘by when would action be taken on my complaint’, ‘why has no action been taken so far,’ etc. have been declared out of the purview of RTI Act by these information commissioners. In many cases, information commissioners have expressed strong displeasure at people “using RTI related to get their personal grievances addressed”.
M. Lakshmana Rao of Hyderabad (9705099524), who publishes a monthly magazine on places of worship, says Andhra information commissioners Ambati Subba Rao dismissed his 17 appeals in one go on by saying that the “appellant was a vexatious information seeker who’s blackmailing the government’.
Kerala information commission says that you cannot ask why a consumer court did not sit on a particular date and why have the orders of high court not been obeyed. ‘That is outside RTI Act’, it says.
Interestingly, information commissioners within the same commission have been following different practices.
Whereas Shailesh Gandhi, AN Tiwari and MM Ansari reject large number of appeals and complaints on the ground that the subject of those applications did not fall within the meaning of information, Wajahat Habibullah and O P Kejariwal have allowed information and have not denied any case on these grounds.
R N Das of Gujarat and Vijay Kuvlekar of Maharashtra not only entertain such requests for information and ensure that information is provided, but also go out of their way to get the grievances of the applicants redressed.
MM Ansari has been quite unpredictable. In some cases, he has denied information on the ground of it not conforming to the definition of information. In similar cases, he has also found a unique way to allow information by making used of section 4(1)(d) of RTI Act. According to this section, a government agency is required to suo motu inform the affected public about the reasons for all its administrative and quasi-judicial decisions. According to Ansari, public authorities are also duty bound to provide reasons to the public about its inaction on any issue.
Goa information commission has found another interesting reason for rejecting appeals and complaints. If first appellate authority (FAA) passes an order in favour of disclosure but the orders are not obeyed, the case is rejected by the information commission on the ground that an appeal could be filed only if one were dissatisfied with the order of first appellate authority. One cannot request the information commission to ensure compliance of first appeal orders. So, where should an appellant go? Goa Information Commission has turned away several people on this ground.
Rajasthan Information Commissioner, M D Kaurani, rejected some appeals because “intentions of the appellant do not appear noble”, even when the officials had not made such an allegation. The RTI Act clearly says that the intention of the applicant shall not be questioned.
Jharkhand Information Commission and Ansari have declared that government servants cannot seek information under RTI Act from their own department. According to Ansari: Ideally speaking, in the garb of seeking information, an employee of a public authority should not raise issues pertaining to grievances regarding the promotion and transfer. Under the service (conduct) rules, which govern the relationship between an employee and his employer, the parties should resolve the disputes in the interest of creating congenial atmosphere for work and promoting productivity of the organisation. In the instant case, the appellant has not only questioned the actions taken by the respondent but also sought explanations for doing so, which tantamounts to insubordination. An employee being a part of the public authority cannot seek its accountability like other citizens as he is free to contribute to its performance through various means available to him. Instead of approaching the competent authority for redress of his grievances or seeking legal remedy in the matter of alleged deprivation of promotion, the appellant has been misusing the provisions of RTI for promotion of his personal interest, which is unfortunate.
The study had found that Central Information Commissioners A N Tiwari and Padma Balasubramaniam top the list of Commissioners who denied information in most cases;
they rejected request for information in almost half of the cases received by them.
They are followed by A R Venkatratnam, who refused information in 40% cases. Annapurna Mishra denied information in 34% cases.
While upholding the greatness of the rti act, i must say that some people of the society uses it for uttering all sort of allegations and bad things against an institution. Their questions like 'How many tile are there in the floor of the office?, how many pigeons are there in the roof of the building, etc. (you dont believe, i am a pio who got around 100 questions of this type) create only no good for the act. Unless some thing is made in the act to control such public nuisances, the act in the near future is going to be toothless.
Their questions like 'How many tile are there in the floor of the office?, how many pigeons are there in the roof of the building, etc. (you dont believe, i am a pio who got around 100 questions of this type)
I am just curious to know, as a PIO, how did you answer these queries ?
Did you provide the information sought or deny it ?
Denied it under what grounds ?
Nice getting your response. I answered all questions which had some logic and whose answers come under the definition of information (sec. 2(f)). I rejected many questions on sec. 7 (9), on unnecessarily and heavily overloading the day today office affairs. Sec. 8 .1. (j) also has been used to reject many questions (on the basis of no public interest).To some other questions, I asked the applicant to personally visit my office and get the relevant information. Sec. 2(f) also has been used to answer certain questions like "why cats are allowed to enter your office premises?" -answering like, "the answer does not fall under the category of information".
What do you say Mr. Karera, How can we eliminate such nuisances? This is one reason why this noble act is being opposed my some categories. We must do something to protect the act. If such nuisances are allowed, the very purpose of the act will be vanishing soon. And we will lose our golden chance of the "RIGHT TO INFORMATION" with which we expect full transparency in public offices.
As you yourself mention, there are enough sections in the RTI Act for the PIO to utilise when confronted with such situations. Similarly, there is still enough sections in the RTI Act for the applicant to be able to get information - either from PIO or at first appeal or even second appeal.
Any law can be used or misused. But that does not mean that we throw the baby out along with the bathwater.
re: post no.4, such petitions are becoming frequent because people do not take care to read the law before taking it.very often people use RTI to give vent to their pent up irritation/frustration and disgust. but as kariraji has stated, there are adequate provisons in the RTI act to tackle such petitions.