Seeking bank employees’ personal info exempted under RTI: SC

The Supreme Court has held that seeking information about individual bank employees which were personal in nature and devoid of any public interest, was exempted under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The court made the observation while allowing an appeal filed by Canara Bank challenging an order of the Kerala High Court directing it to provide information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act about transfers and postings of its entire clerical staff from January 2002 to July 2006.

Relying on an 2013 apex court verdict, a bench comprising Justices R K Agrawal and A M Sapre said the information sought by a man, who was working as a clerical staff in the bank, was “personal in nature” and exempted from being disclosed under section 8(j) of the RTI Act.

It said neither the man had “disclosed any public interest much less larger public interest involved in seeking such information of the individual employee” nor any finding was recorded by Central Information Commission (CIC) and the high court regarding any public interest in supplying such information to him.

He had in August 2006 made an application to the public information officer (PIO) of the bank under the RTI Act and sought information regarding transfers and postings of the entire clerical staff from January 2002 to July 2006 in all the branches.

He had also asked for information regarding personal details of individual employees like date of joining, designation and promotion earned.

The bank’s PIO had expressed his inability to furnish details sought by him on the ground that it was protected from being disclosed under the provisions of the Act and had no nexus with any public interest.

The man had thereafter filed an appeal before the chief public information officer who also dismissed it.

Later, he moved the CIC which in February 2007 asked the bank to furnish the information sought by him.

Aggrieved by the order, the bank approached the high court which dismissed its plea while affirming the order of the CIC.

The top court allowed the appeal filed by the bank while setting aside the orders of the high court and the CIC.

Prez Secretariat moves HC against CIC order on housing complex

Prez Secretariat moves HC against CIC order on housing complex
Prez Secretariat moves HC against CIC order on housing complex

The President’s Secretariat has sought relief from the Delhi High Court from an order of the Central Information Commission directing it to disclose the security concerns it has raised against allowing a residential complex in the tony neighbourhood of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The case relates to the use of a 9.26-hectare (22.9 acres) dairy farm at Sardar Patel Marg in the close vicinity of the Rashtrapati Bhavan for residential purposes by Edward Keventer (Successors) Private Ltd (EKSPL).

The Union government had in 2010 raised security concerns against the project before the Delhi High Court, but was rejected. The high court had then said the master plan permits the use of the land for residential areas and that there were many other residential premises in the area.

Security agencies had also objected to the proposal of raising the height of the complex from four-storeyed to eight-storeyed, saying it would pose a security threat to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

RTI activist Subhash Agrawal had sought details of the objections from the President’s Secretariat which refused to disclose the details, saying these were classified information received from intelligence organisations and were exempted from disclosure under Section 24(1) of the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

The objections raised by the President’s Secretariat were rejected by Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur, who ordered the disclosure of the information on the grounds that there were allegations of corruption.

Under the RTI Act, the exemption from disclosure given to security agencies under Section 24(1) does not apply if an applicant is seeking any material pertaining to human rights violations and corruption which is “held by” or “under the control” of these organisations.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had claimed that there was corruption in the matter.

In its petition filed in the high court recently challenging the CIC order, the President’s Secretariat has, among other reasons, said the disclosure cannot be permitted as the exemption from the section is attracted only in cases of allegation of corruption and human rights violation “in/by” the security agencies.

The secretariat also said the CIC “has mixed the security issue with the alleged corruption issue and has thus depicted a complete non-application of mind”.

Former Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra had underlined that Section 24 of the RTI Act does not makes any distinction between allegations of corruption on the basis whether it is made against the employees of the exempted organisation or others.

The RTI Act is not about seeking information which pertains to a public authority but about the information which is “held by” it or “under its control”.

It may or may not be about human rights violations and corruption within or by the security agencies as the exemption covers such information held by them.

Agrawal had said since allegations of corruption have been levelled, the information cannot be withheld under Section 24(1) of the RTI Act.

“The information sought…is not covered under Section 24 (1) of the RTI Act,” Chief Information Commissioner Mathur had said.

A single judge bench of the Delhi High Court had in 2010 allowed EKSPL to develop the land for dairy after depositing conversion charges of Rs 1,200 crore with the government.

The central government had opposed the conversion citing security concerns and said the area in question comes within the vicinity of the President’s Estate in Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone and involves security issues.

The Union government had approached a division bench of the high court on the ground that the security issues should have been weighed in by the single judge bench of the court but the same has been totally brushed aside.

The division bench had said the master plan permits the use of the land for residential areas and there were many other residential premises in the area.

No power to CIC to order jails to pay damages: Delhi HC

No power to CIC to order jails to pay damages: Delhi HC
No power to CIC to order jails to pay damages: Delhi HC

Central Information Commission (CIC) does not have the power to direct Tihar Jail to develop a system of compensating inmates who have been incarcerated beyond their period of sentence, Delhi High Court has held.

“Prima facie, this power does not vest in the CIC,” Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said while staying operation of the September 29, 2016 decision of the Commission asking Tihar Jail authorities to frame a policy to resolve disputes regarding remission and paying compensation to prisoners who lost their personal liberty due to detention beyond the sentence awarded to them.

The court’s order came on a plea by jail authorities who contended that the transparency panel has exceeded its jurisdiction under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 and appeared to have exercised the powers of a court.

CIC’s decision had come on a plea by RTI applicant Om Prakash Gandhi who had claimed that he had spent four days more in Tihar Jail than what was ordered by the court.

The commission had directed that Gandhi should be paid a token compensation by the prison authorities at the rate of Rs 2500 per day along with an additional Rs 1000 for costs borne by him.

“Perusal of the order, prima facie, shows that the CIC has sought to exercise powers beyond those conferred on it under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The CIC, by the impugned order, had assessed compensation calculated per day of the alleged extra detention of the respondent and directed the petitioner to frame a policy or guideline or regulations for a system of resolving disputes regarding remission and payment of compensation to prisoners whose release is delayed on account of certain reasons.

It also issued notice to Gandhi and sought his response by May 1, the next date of hearing.

The court, however, clarified that “the pendency of the present petition and the order will not come in the way of respondent No.1 (Gandhi) seeking appropriate remedies in law before an appropriate forum”.

( Source – PTI )

Plea in SC for amendment in RTI Act

Allahabad High Court
Allahabad High Court

New Delhi, A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Centre to amend the RTI Act for fixing time limit for disposal of appeals by the Central Information Commission and state information panels.

The plea has been filed by an RTI activist against an order of the Allahabad High Court, passed on October 5, 2015, dismissing his appeal on the issue.

RTI activist Rakesh Kumar Tewari, in his appeal filed through lawyer Shiv Kumar Tripathi, also sought a direction to various authorities in Uttar Pradesh “to supply the information as sought by the petitioner without putting conditions…”

He sought information related to the departments of Sarju Nahar Khand at Gonda in Uttar Pradesh.

The plea alleged that there was rampant corruption in the departments of Sarju Nahar Kendra, Gonda.

It said that the petitioner needed information under the RTI “for exposing acts of omissions and commissions of the officials of concerned departments”.

It also claimed that “information is being deliberately not supplied with oblique motives to protect the corrupt activities being carried on in department against the public interest and for the illegal and corrupt practice being adopted for the personal gain against the interest of the department.”

“All these has precipitated due to the inherent lacuna in the Right to Information Act, 2005 which does not prescribed any time limit within a fixed time without which the object and purpose for which the Act was enacted has become futile,” the petition said, seeking a direction for the amendment in the transparency law.

Over 37,000 RTI appeals pending with CIC

Over 37,000 appeals under the RTI Act are pending with the Central Information Commission, the government today said, indicating that a lack of time limit for disposal of 2nd appeals by the body is the reason behind the large pendency.

As on February 17, a total of 37,935 2nd appeals are pending with the CIC, Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply.

“As per the Right to Information Act, the RTI applications and first appeals are required to be mandatorily disposed off within 30 days of their receipt. However, no time limit has been prescribed for disposal of 2nd appeals pending with the CIC,” he said.

As on December 31, 2013, 22,097 2nd appeals were pending before the information body. The number stood at 35,854 on December 31, 2014.

Bill to amend RTI Act likely in parliament Monday

The government is Monday likely to introduce in the Lok Sabha a bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act to keep political parties out of its ambit, informed sources said.
The issue has been in the limelight after a June 3 Central Information Commission (CIC) order stated that six national political parties would be brought under the RTI Act as they were public authorities, receiving significant funding from the government.

The government will have no difficulty in getting the bill passed as most parties are against the CIC order, the sources said.

The union cabinet approved the amendments Aug 2.

Defending the amendments, Law Minister Kapil Sibal had then said no political party could function if the CIC order was implemented.

“This (order) will strike at the root of the political system. People will seek all sorts of details from political parties including their process of consultation and decision-making. Nowhere in the world does this happen,” he said.

 “The political parties are unanimous against the CIC order. Parties will not be able to function if this is allowed,” he added.

The law minister gave a long list of points to indicate that political parties “did not function under a veil of secrecy” and were accountable.

“We get elected by the people. We have to reveal whatever donations we receive to the Election Commission. It is not as if donations to parties are unaccounted for,” said Sibal.

Donations received by political parties beyond Rs.20,000 have to be declared to the income tax department, the minister pointed out.

“This can also be made public. It is not as if the political parties operate under a veil of secrecy,” he said.
“We give an account of assets and liabilities to the Election Commission and also give an account of our expenses, there is transparency. Political parties are not companies or trusts. It’s a voluntary association of persons,” he said.
(Source: IANS )

Activists oppose amendments to RTI Act

rtiaCivil society activists are gearing up for an offensive against the government’s proposed legislation to exclude political parties from the ambit of the RTI Act. Besides petitions to parliamentarians, the PM and the President urging them not to support the amendments, activists plan to hold protest demonstrations and even challenge the legislation in court as a last resort.

The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared two amendments to the transparency Act to counter the Central Information Commission (CIC) June 3 order that the six national political parties ” Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM ” were public authorities. The bill is likely to be brought in the monsoon session of Parliament starting on Monday.

Despite a series of petitions to MPs and PM Manmohan Singh signed by eminent citizens including Aruna Roy, Shailesh Gandhi, Shekhar Singh and others, the government is fairly confident of smooth passage of the RTI bill.

Activists plan to challenge the proposed legislation on the grounds that it is against the constitutional right to freedom of speech. There has been a precedent earlier when the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act in 2002 and directed candidates to submit their financial details and criminal antecedents before the Election Commission of India. SC said the amendment was in violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) co-founder Prof Jagdeep Chhokar said, “We hope RTI Act is not passed and wise counsel prevails on the lawmakers. In the unfortunate event that it is passed by Parliament, it will be challenged in court of law. The exact nature of which will depend on the specific wording of the amendments.”

Activists said there was a clear case of conflict of interest with MPs seeking to exclude themselves from the transparency Act.

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) plans a protest demonstration on August 6 at Jantar Mantar to voice their concern against the government’s decision.

RTI activist S C Agrawal said if political parties were trying to escape scrutiny of the RTI Act, they should also return land and accommodation allotted by the central and state governments at subsidized costs and tax concessions to political parties must be abolished.

(Source: IANS)

CIC adjourns BCCI hearing

The Central Information Commission today adjourned a crucial hearing on declaring the Indian cricket board as public authority under RTI Act after the sports body produced a stay from the Madras High Court.

The Commission had constituted a Full Bench to hear the matter and issued notice to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and all its member units to bring along with them details of land, buildings, stadiums allotted by state government among others.

The Board was also asked to produce Income Tax exemptions received by it.

The hearing was scheduled to start today at 4 PM but BCCI produced the stay granted by Madras High Court after which the transparency panel decided to adjourn the matter till stay is vacated or an appropriate order is received from higher bench of the High Court or Supreme Court.

“Matter of bringing BCCI under purview of RTI Act is of utmost national importance when BCCI conducts cricket matches with teams controlled by it named as ‘Indian team’ getting all types of recognition and facilities from Union and state governments,” RTI applicant Madhu Agrawal had pleaded before the Commission.

(Source: IANS)

‘CBI can’t carry out enquiry without talking to government’

Against the backdrop of the Supreme Court restraining the CBI from speaking to the government on its ongoing investigations into the coal scam, the law ministry feels that the probe agency can’t go about its preliminary enquiry with such communication.

“It is not possible for the CBI not to talk to the government during the course of its investigation at the stage of preliminary enquiry,” said a highly-placed ministry source, taking the apex court position head-on.

The source said that there are three stages – the first is the preliminary enquiry stage and that necessarily involves dialogue with the government otherwise the investigating agency can’t proceed with its probe. The second stage involves investigation and the last stage is filing of the charge sheet.

Taking a dim view of some courts continuing monitoring of cases even after the filing of charge sheets, the source said: “Once the charge sheets are filed, no one can supervise the matter.”

Urging that every stake holder in the system should observe the “Lakshman Rekha”, the source said it too can speak a lot as it is privy to much more information but such a course would be bad for the system.

The ministry source dismissed a Central Information Commission (CIC) order treating political parties as par with public authorities, saying the two entities were different and there was a court judgment supporting this position.

However, this “does not mean that they (political parties) should not be transparent in their functioning”, added the source.

The source did not take a favourable view of the recent apex court judgment asking the Election Commission to frame guidelines to restrain political parties from promising freebies in their election manifestos.

“Election manifesto is a manifesto of political parties and there could be no impediments in what parties want to say in it,” the source said.

(Source: IANS)

CIC order on parties: RTI applicants file caveat in HC

A caveat was on Wednesday filed in the Delhi High Court to pre-empt any ex-parte stay on the Central Information Commission order bringing political parties under the purview of Right to Information Act.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a civil society claiming to bring transparency in Indian politics, on whose plea the CIC had passed the order, asked the High Court that it should be given the opportunity to respond if any appeal is filed by any political party.

ADR said that they apprehend that the political parties like Congress, BJP, Samajwadi Party, BSP and CPI, CPI(M) and NCP would challenge the CIC’s June 3 order.

“The caveator/ prospective respondents (ADR) apprehend that the revision/appellant may claim inter-alia ex parte interim relief from this court against CIC’s June 3 order.

“No ex parte/ad-interim relief or otherwise be granted to the prospective revisioner/appellant without a prior notice thereof of the caveators/prospective respondents is duly served,” the caveat filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal said.

“The caveators have a strong case on merits and if an opportunity is granted to them, the caveators will convince this court not to grant ex-parte relief in the present case and to further dismiss any such revision petition/ first appeal against the order/interim application of the prospective revisioner/appellant on the merits,” as per the caveat.

On June 3, the CIC has brought six political parties – Congress, BJP, CPI-M, CPI, BSP and NCP – under the ambit of the RTI Act, saying the parties are substantially financed by the central government among other things.