Gujarat HC Directs Information Commissioner to Take Action Against Officer Acting in Contravention of RTI Act 

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A writ petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to challenge the actions of the Public Information Officer, Bharuch. The Court has observed the activity to be callous and directed the authorities to initiate proceedings under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act.

Brief Facts

The petitioner had demanded information, details and documents under the Right to Information Act, 2005 by an application dated 19.4.2018. The respondent authority, Public Information Officer (PIO) rejected the application only on the ground that it pertains to the third party. Such a piece of information is protected under the privilege of Section 8(1)(d) the Right to Information Act, 2005. Further, the petitioner preferred the First Appeal before the appellate authority, which failed to respond within the stipulated time. After that, the petitioner approached the State Information Commissioner (SIC) who allowed the appeal and directed the respondent authorities to furnish the required information, Moreover, in paragraph 3 of the order, the SIC criticized that the actions of the respondent, which were totally based on flimsy grounds.

However, the respondent authorities did not comply with the order instead took a different stand. They stated that no record could be presented as it was either destroyed in an earthquake or not available for perusal.

Therefore, the petitioner filed a writ petition alleging that the action of the authority deprived their right to information.    

Court’s Observations

The Court observed the conflicting stand of the respondent authorities at the appropriate time, i.e. contentions before and after the SIC order. The Court asserted- “The respondent authorities had the record with them and after perusal of such record have found, that the information sought for by the petitioner is missing, and thereafter, change their stand of no record being available. Therefore, the same cannot be accepted by this Court.”

Accordingly, the Court noted the appropriate provisions under the Right to Information Act, 2005. According to Section 20, SIC has the powers to impose a penalty on the PIO either if they refuse to receive an application or not furnish the requested information within 30 days.

Court’s Order

The judgement was pronounced by a single-judge bench comprising of Justice A. Y. Kogje. The Court passed an oral order relegating back the matter to the State Information Commissioner. The SIC shall be initiating proceedings under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Relevance

The Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted to mandate timely response to citizen requests for governmental information. The Act has been in discussion since the Prime Minister’s Office has refused to divulge any information about the PM-CARES Fund set up to provide relief during an emergency such as COVID-19 pandemic. It has contended that the fund qualifies as CSR expenditure under the Companies Act, 2013, hence, not a public authority under the impugned Act.


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