The petitioner filed the present petition in order to seek the quashing of the orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC).
Facts of the Case
Earlier, the respondent no.1 had filed civil litigation. He alleged that an advocate (herein ‘Petitioner’) transferred his immovable property.
The petitioner is a practising lawyer in Delhi and a Notary Public. The petitioner attested and authenticated the document of his property. Further, the respondent stated that to prove his case he seeks a copy of the said notarial register of the petitioner. Hence, the respondent filed an RTI application to procure the document. As a result, the respondent submitted the application seeking-
- The serial number of first and last act performed for each of the years 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
- Copies of the Notary Register for the years 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Arguments of the Parties
The petitioner, thereafter, forwarded the annual returns for the year 2008 to 2012. Respondent no.1 claimed that the annual returns for the year 2008 are not provided. He claimed that the report for the year 2008-2009 contains records of only 2009. The returns for the year 2008 are missing. The petitioner, on the contrary, stated that the functions of a Notary are confidential in nature. A Notary cannot reveal the information of notarization to a third party.
For this, the petitioner relied on Section 8(1) (d), (e), Section 11of the RTI Act, 2005 and Section 126 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The petitioner stated that she started looking into the old records. She found that termites had eaten some of the records and documents.
CIC’s Observations and Conclusion
CIC observed that the Notary has a legal duty to protect and preserve records. If termites eat the records, the Notary owes an explanation to the people why she failed to prevent it.
The CIC concluded that this is a glaring example of poor record maintenance. The same has resulted in “in-access”. The commission noted that this is negligence and lethargy in preserving public records. They noticed that the ground of ‘file missing’ or ‘not traceable’ or ‘eaten away by termites’ is not a ground of legal base. This amounts to a breach of the Public Records Act, 1993.
The CIC remarked that a Notary cannot leave registers as food to termites. The CIC imposed a penalty of Rs.25000/- on the petitioner. The petitioner was also directed to pay compensation of Rs.1,000/- to Respondent No.1.
Respondent No. 1 has stated that returns for the year 2008-2012 are present. He pleaded that the petitioner is not only guilty of non-compliance of the order of the CIC but also for denying the information. Furthermore, she concocted a story of termites having eaten the government’s key records.
Observation of the Court
The Court held that respondent No.1 has argued that the petitioner is withholding the documents. The Court held that the allegation made against the petitioner is bad. Respondent no. 1 has also not shown that the petitioner’s story is false. Moreover, the Court states that CIC has misplaced its conclusion on the Notary. Most Notaries function under difficult conditions and the fees received is not ‘huge money’. The Court observed that there is no specific procedure prescribed for storing records. It is quite possible that termites may have damaged the relevant record.
The learned counsel for the petitioner was not able to furnish documents. She stated that despite her best efforts, records for the year 2005-2007 are not available. The petitioner had to file a personal affidavit stating the non-traceability of the said records. The said affidavit is now filed.
The Court relied on two judgements on the imposition of penalty i.e. in Majibur Rehman v. CIC, 2009 SCC Online 1149, Registrar of Companies v. Dharmendra Kumar Garg, ILR (2012) 6 Del 499. Hence, the Court held that CIC is not to impose penalties under Section 20 of the RTI Act when there is a reasonable cause.
The bench comprising of Justice Jayant Nath held that the petitioner is not guilty under Section 20 of the Act of having either destroyed information or having denied the request for information for malafide reasons. Above all, the Court quashed the CIC’s order to impose a penalty on the petitioner.
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