While much ink has flowed on public information officers (PIOs) not paying the penalty directed by information commissioners, not much has been revealed about PIOs using legal experts of the same public authority to fight cases in the courts against the penalty imposed on them which is illegal.
As per an Uttarakhand High Court (HC) order of 2018, when a penalty is imposed under Section 20 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act on the PIO and he wishes to challenge it in the court, he should do so at his individual level only. He cannot hire an additional chief standing counsel or chief standing counsel of the public authority (PA) he is working in.
RTI applicant Radha Tiwari has filed second appeals on various issues regarding Bank of Baroda (BoB), one of which led to the penalty to the PIO. In one of his second appeal orders, the PIO was penalised by the central information commissioner (CIC) for an amount of Rs15,000 to be paid in three instalments. After he paid the first instalment of Rs5,000, the PIO decided to seek legal intervention officially through BoB and the latter obliged.
On learning that the PIO has filed a series of three writ petitions in Delhi HC, in which he was the respondent for one, Mr Tiwari has filed another RTI to seek information on whether the former has used lawyers of the Bank against the penalty imposed on him which is contempt of court.
Mr Tiwari, in his RTI application, has asked BoB to provide him with a certified copy of the bills or invoices raised by each of the lawyers. These bills relate to their consultation, drafting and the filing of the petition before the Delhi HC; certified copy of the sanctioned/approved bills; and a certified copy of the official document, like a note, letter, or email, that shows the approval or permission from the competent authority at BoB to use its legal experts.
States Mr Tiwari, “These writ petitions aim to challenge the financial penalties imposed by the CIC on individual officers of Bank of Baroda, rather than on the bank itself, for their personal acts of default. The petitions also contest the CIC order requiring the disclosure of information.”
Mr Tiwari claims that there allegedly are instances of misuse of public funds from BoB's profits, where authorities within the bank have made substantial payments as fees to legal representatives for filing successive writ petitions before the Delhi HC.
The following are the details of such successive writ petitions filed before the Delhi HC.
- When the CIC reviewed a complaint against Mr K Surya Prasad, who works as DGM (FI & CSR) and is the CPIO at Bank of Baroda, they decided to penalise him. In this CIC decision of 7 June 2022, the CIC ordered Mr Prasad to pay a financial penalty of Rs15,000. This amount was to be deducted from his salary in three equal monthly instalments.
- Mr Prasad paid the first instalment of the financial penalty of Rs5,000. After that, he decided he wasn't happy with the penalty levied on him. So he filed a writ petition against that decision. He did this through Praveena Gautam, who serves as the Bank’s standing counsel, before the Delhi HC. The application requested the court to issue orders preventing him from filing further RTI applications. He filed another petition in the Delhi HC through Deepak Tyagi, advocate.
The PIO of BoB has replied, “The case is currently being heard in the Delhi High Court. Revealing details about it isn't important for the public, so it's protected under section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.”
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)