Unjust RTI denial merits action

Unjust RTI denial merits action

Dr K Venkata Rao filed an RTI request for: The names, addresses and offices of beneficiaries of allotment of CGEWHO houses, list of those availing...

Dr K Venkata Rao filed an RTI request for: The names, addresses and offices of beneficiaries of allotment of CGEWHO houses, list of those availing loans with details of banks, list of those who entered tripartite agreements with banks, list of whose title deeds sent to banks who gave loans, and list of those who took title deeds. The CPIO denied saying “information sought may be rejected under Section 8(1)(j) since all bank’s information are not to be made public and are not readily available in the system for giving it to any particular bank.”

The appellant contended the Section 8(1)(j) is inapplicable to his case, as he was not asking for any sensitive issues such as, amount of loan borrowed, or its modes of loan repayment etc, but only details of beneficiaries. Moreover the information sought was no longer a confidential matter as on date as the majority of cases had been settled long back in many instances and hence do not involve the invasion of privacy of any individual’s right. He alleged: “The PIOs have not made any efforts to obtain the permission from those individuals concerned as well, as per Section 11 of the RTI Act.

The PIOs should have satisfied that the disclosure of information on lager public interest; Further the statement of the link PIO that the “information are not readily available at the system” itself shows the irresponsibility, non-transference and unaccountability, as they are supposed to maintain the public records as per Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005. The essential test of the RTI Act is that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or State legislature shall not be denied to any person. Towards it, the appellant had also relied on a judgment of ‘Anil Kumar Vs. DoPT case’ (CIC Appeal No. 76/IC/(A)/2006) and its verdict. The confirmation of the CPIO’s response in first appeal was not correct.”

The appellant explained that: “He had availed the housing loan of Rs 1,67,157/- on 05.01.1996 as against the sanctioned loan of Rs. 1,75,000/- from HDFC bank; Towards the loan the appellant had signed the Tri-partite agreement with HDFC Bank, CGEWHO and self; Hence as per the Tri-partite agreement, the appellant’s title deed of the housing property ought to have been submitted to the banker HDFC as a security against the loan taken by the appellant; Whereas the Administrator of CGEWHO had never submitted the appellant’s title deed to the HDFC bank under the Tri-partite agreement, but instead delivered the title deed to Mr. S Gokul Sankar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Tamil Nadu, husband of G. Nirmala, under some illegal transaction.

Hence the correct information pertaining to the appellant title deed of the property was not provided by the CPIO and the link PIO deliberately so far; It is also learnt through certain other vital documents that the CPIO and FAA of CGEWHO are under constant threat from the G Nirmala as not to divulge any information connected to the delivery of the appellant’s title deed to the G Nirmala through her husband (Mr. S. Gokul Sankar), as against the mandatory submission of the original Tri-partite agreement to the HDFC bank; The copy of the legal notice served by Mrs. G. Nirmala, through her Advocate Mr. C. Mani to Mr. N. K. Wadhwa, Ex. Dir (Admn) of CGEWHO; and the reply made by Mr. N. K. Wadhwa to Mrs. G. Nirmal would provide the prima facie evidence for their illegal transaction; Hence the denial/incorrect information to the petitioner as regards to his title deed on several earlier instances against different RTI applications were also wilful, mala fide and unlawful.”

A perusal of RTI application, other records and hearing the contentions of either side brought out the facts that the appellant was aggrieved by the irregular action of the officer of the department concerned. He is mainly interested in file concerning that allocation, payment of dues and possession. As the appellant was absent during the hearing, the learned Commissioner was convinced by the contentions of the PIO for refusal of information. However, the serious ground that brought the second appeal back to the CIC was that his request to give time to travel or to represent through video conferencing was not allowed.

The contentious issue before the Commission is whether information demanded was personal information. The CPIO should have disclosed the information by adopting the doctrine of severance, i.e., redacting personal information from the other that could be disclosed. It was not done.

Transparency in welfare schemes
As far as the welfare schemes are concerned, the government has a duty to maintain total transparency in the interests of better implementation. If the people easily access the information about eligibilities and benefits of the scheme, the benefits will reach genuine persons and reduce the possibility of corruption. The public authority in such cases shall publish the list of beneficiaries along with eligibility conditions, so that anybody from public can question if any wrong person was given the benefit. The people can point out if there is any suppression, misrepresentation or fraud. The information about the loans obtained by those beneficiaries from banks cannot be their ‘private information.’ Title deed is a registered document indicating the transfer of property, which is a public activity by public authority.

This cannot be termed as private information of a third party. Registration itself means giving notice to public in general, so that people know that such property has been already transferred, which means it could not be further transferred. The registration of property is a compulsory statutory condition under Transfer of Property Act and Registration Act, which basically provides for maintenance of records of transaction and public access to it. Anybody can seek to find encumbrances on any registered immovable property as per those laws.

The information sought in this case relates to open applications seeking benefits of government scheme, and grant of those benefits by the public authority, loan from the banks based on deposit of title deeds, which can never be considered as somebody’s private activity. Any information related to such scheme, if disclosed, cannot cause invasion of privacy of any person. Appellant is fighting against irregularities committed in the scheme which affected him. To prevent such irregularities, entire information should be in public domain and every file regarding allotments should be accessed.

Abuse of privacy clause
Denying information about public welfare schemes of the government on the ground of privacy of some other person is sheer abuse of right to privacy by the government and deliberate violation of Right to Information, which was guaranteed under a specific statute with a specific exception i.e., Section 8(1)(j). This kind of mischief by the PIOs will facilitate irregularities and corruption. In this case, the appellant contended that information was not given only to suppress the irregularities. Commission finds reason in this contention. By abuse of privacy provision by the CPIO, the appellant was unnecessarily driven to CIC and also to the Delhi High Court.

The CPIO should have provided access to appellant to his own house allotment file at the initial stage or public authority should have addressed grievance in the beginning itself to completely solve his problem. The main administrative function of the public authority was ignored and duty under RTI Act was also breached. The allegations of appellant about irregularities in his case need to be probed by the public authority. It has to explain what exactly happened and why action was not taken if there is any mischief by the officers.

The Commission directed the officer designated as First Appellate Authority to inquire, find facts of irregularities in the appellant case, and file the report. The CIC also issued show cause notice to CPIO and another officer considering him as deemed PIO for refusal of information, besides directing disclosure of information.

(Based on decision in CIC/KY/A/2014/901399, Dr K Venkata Rao v. PIO, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, dated 17th November 2017)

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