Vishwas Bhamburkar apprehended embezzlement of funds of HUDCO, New Delhi, and sought information on spending on gifts for the years from 2013 to 2016, renovation of official residence of its Chairman and Managing Director in ASIAD village, electricity bills of official residence, and about employment of two persons at CMD residence etc.
The CPIO, Dr D K Gupta, wrote a letter on 5.8.2016 demanding the proof of identity and proof of address by producing Aadhaar Card, Voter’s ID Card or Passport as proof of citizenship. He did not say anything about giving information sought. No information was given within 30 days. The applicant who filed this complaint also filed first appeal, asking for information without insisting on the proofs.
First Appellate Authority Akhilesh Kumar confirmed the demand for proof of identity, verification of address and establishing citizenship of the appellant. On 19.04.2017, the Commission directed the CPIO to facilitate inspection of all the exhibits and files related to: (i) names and beneficiaries for whom amounts were spent from the coffers of HUDCO for gifts for years 2013 to 2016; (ii) renovation of official residence of its Chairman and Managing Director in ASIAD village (iii) Mr. Rajkumar and Mr. Harish employed in capacity of Chairman and Managing Director respectively and remunerations paid to each of them; (iv) Appointment of Ms. Shweta Kulshreshtha as Management Trainee in Uttarakhand; (v) Vigilance clearance given to Mr. Ravi Kant.
The respondent authority was directed to facilitate inspection on 20.04.2017 at 1130 hours and the CPIO to show-cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon him for not furnishing the information sough within prescribed time limits. Dr DK Gupta, CPIO (in-charge), HUDCO, on 18.05.2017 submitted a detailed written explanation, as follows: “At the outset, I would like to submit that a few RTI applications were received by the then CPIO, HUDCO, during the same period in the nature of motivated allegations, and it was found that in most of the cases, no such RTI applicant either residing at the addresses mentioned therein, or has already left the place given in the RTI applications.
Therefore, a need has arisen for the then CPIO to ensure the genuineness of the applicants by seeking the identity proof of the applicants. The then CPI, HUDCO, in order to discharge his obligations with utmost care and caution, requested the Applicant, Shri Vishwas Bhamburkar, to confirm his identity, as a Citizen of India, by furnishing any proof. However, he understood differently and reacted harshly unbecoming of a responsible citizen of India. Appellant has asked twenty-four (24) questions in more than 500 words on different subjects about administrative aspects of a 47-year-old HUDCO.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 is a Special Act, empowering the citizens of India to obtain information from any Public Authority, therefore, right from the submission of application to the CPIO level up to any proceedings before the Central Information Commission, it is the duty of the Public Information Officers to ensure that such right is being exercised only by a citizen of India. As per the present mandate, a CPIO is empowered to deny furnishing of any formation, if not applied for by a citizen of India.
However, the Applicant/Appellant all along since August 2016 has been prejudicial and also adamant at not furnishing his identity proof, disregarding the specific requests made by the then CPIO as well as by First Appellate Authority, using manifestly-derogatory and palpably-objectionable language. The CPIO has furnished information in 29 pages, which is more than what has been asked for, by the Applicant/Appellant and was sent by Speed Post on 28.4.2017.”
The Commission mentioned in an order dated 05.07.2017: “the representative of appellant Shri Mukul Jain alleged that around five crore rupees worth malpractice is going on in HUDCO in the form of giving and receiving of gifts involving senior people in the Ministry, and it was not known who asked those gifts and who received.
He said that gifts like iPhone, Mont Blanc Pens, and iPads were given to the senior authorities of their Ministry by Mr Ravi Kant, IAS, Managing Director of HUDCO. He also said that the CPIO had no authority to demand the identity proof and to ascertain whether information available will be useful to him either personally or socially or nationally. Does he not know that they are spending public money on gifts, residence of the MD and his office, and it should be disclosing such information to the public in general as per RTI Act?”
In this case, there are two CPIOs during the first thirty days from date of RTI application, i.e., 1.8.2016. Dr DK Gupta should have given that information, which was not hit by any exception, within mandatory 30 days as he was holding office of CPIO till 24th August, 2016. He spent 24 days without giving information or following up after demanding proof of identity etc. He raised suspicion about the citizenship of the applicant without explaining why he was suspecting.
There is nothing to justify his suspicion even in his explanation to show cause notice. His contention that some others have filed anonymous or pseudonymous complaints is not valid. He mentioned about complaints being closed because of these reasons on the advice of CVC. Taking action against a complaint without bearing an identifiable name is different from objecting to the RTI application, which is properly filed with name, address and identity. In his response, CPIO Dr DK Gupta says, because some others filed repetitive RTIs, he wanted to verify bona fides of this applicant.
This contention is not legal and hence not acceptable. He also failed to justify the denial of information, as he could not cite any clause of exception under Section 8 or 9. From his submissions, it is clear that the information sought did not attract any exception prescribed under RTI Act. In his explanation on the show cause notice he admitted that he insisted on proof of identity, proof of address and also proof of citizenship.
He claimed to have initiated to collect information but, he did not do anything before he left the office or made arrangements to dispatch it before expiry of 30 days time by successor. In addition, his intention to deny was also established by his explanation to show cause notice. Dr DK Gupta admitted that he insisted on the applicant to submit proof of identity, proof of address, proof of citizenship and specifically demanded Aadhaar Card or Passport or Voter Id Card and refused to consider his RTI request otherwise. He reiterated he had a duty not to give information to non-citizens.
As per law, he need not provide any confirmation for his address, name or citizenship. Dr. D K Gupta said he has a duty to give information only to citizen and has no duty to give information to non-citizen. Section 7 explains the duties of CPIO under RTI Act. The CPIO can deny information only under Section 8 and 9. He cannot invent new grounds for denial like lack of Aadhaar Card, Voter Id Card, Passport etc. This Section was violated by Dr D K Gupta as he did not give any information in 30 days and beyond also.
Dr DK Gupta failed to prove that Vishwas Bhamburkar was not a citizen as ground for denial, though it was not available to him. Nowhere the RTI Act prohibited ‘person’ from securing the information, or authorized the PIO to demand the proof of citizenship. The RTI Act, 2005 uses expression of Citizen in Section 3, but these two CPIOs do not see that expression ‘person’ is used in Section 6 (Request for obtaining information)– “A person who desires to obtain any information under this Act, shall...”, Section 7 (Disposal of Request, duty of CPIO) proviso under subsections (1), (6), (8), Section 18 (complaint by any person), Section 19( appeal by any person).
A ‘person’ cannot be denied information on the pretext that he did not produce proof of citizenship. In addition, the CPIOs and FAA were insisting on Aadhar Card to give information. Hence the Commission held that CPIO was liable to pay penalty of Rs 25,000.
(Based on the decision in CIC/HUDCO/C/2017/164658, Vishwas Bhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd, on 26.12.2017)