Hockey India, which is recognised as a part of the National Sports Federation by the Union government’s ministry of youth affairs & sports and which has Elena Norman (Australian) as its firangi chief executive officer (CEO) and because it is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, transparency is not only mandatory but paramount.
However, when leading RTI activist Subhashchandra Agrawal, who has been time and again seeking information on Hockey India’s various activities, invoked RTI for details of Ms Norman’s appointment, central information commissioner (CIC) Saroj Punhani, early this week, in her order, has okayed the central public information officer's (CPIO's) denial of information.
The information sought by Mr Agrawal under Section 6 of the RTI Act was:
• “Complete information together with file-notings, correspondence, documents, etc. on appointment of chief executive officer (CEO) at Hockey India mentioning name, nationality, monetary and other benefits available to the CEO. Please also mention if any amount is paid to CEO in foreign currency or fund-transfer to some foreign bank account.”
Mr Agrawal had also sought information on Ms Norman’s…
• “Duties, responsibilities, powers, and other rights given to CEO at Hockey India also enclosing contract, agreement, etc., if any, signed between CEO and Hockey India.
• “Details of fund-transfer to foreign bank accounts mentioning purpose and amount of each such fund-transfer (without names) in foreign correspondence, documents, etc. on the appointment of the chief executive officer (CEO) at Hockey India mentioning name, nationality, monetary and other benefits available to the CEO. Please also mention if any amount is paid to the CEO in a foreign curbank (foreign currency) account in the last three years.”
• The relevant “file notings.”
Quite predictably, the CPIO brushed away the information on Ms Norman’s appointment by replying that “The information sought is of commercial confidence and pertains to a third party, hence the information sought cannot be provided under section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act, 2005 as salaries are considered personal information.”
It is pertinent to ask why the salary of a CEO of a public authority comes under the exemption clauses of the RTI Act.
However, CIC Saroj Punhani has also surprisingly upheld the CPIO’s reply in her order early this week.
Her order observes: “In this regard, the commission arrives at the conclusion that the CPIO has appropriately denied the personal information on point no. 1 (appointment details of Norman) of the RTI application regarding ‘Complete information together with file-notings, correspondence, documents, etc. on appointment of chief executive officer (CEO) at Hockey India mentioning name, nationality, monetary and other benefits available to the CEO. Please also mention if any amount is paid to CEO in foreign currency or fund-transfer to some foreign bank account’.” This, she observes, “stands exempted from disclosure under section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act.”
Quoting the relevant Section of the RTI Act, Ms Punhani points out in her order that what she says “can be garnered from a bare perusal of the text of section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act as under:
8. Exemption from disclosure of information.—
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,
(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information;..”
When Moneylife contacted Mr Agrawal, he said, “I am extremely disappointed with the order.”
Ms Punhani, in her CIC decision, took the reference of an SC judgement and quoted it saying, “The import of “personal information” envisaged under section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act has been exemplified in the context of earlier ratios laid down by the same Court in the matter(s) of Canara Bank Vs CS Shyam in civil appeal no.22 of 2009; Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs central information commissioner & ors., (2013) 1 SCC 212 and RK Jain vs Union of India & Anr.,(2013) 14 SCC 794.The following was thus held:
“59. Reading of the aforesaid judicial precedents, in our opinion, would indicate that personal records, including name, address, physical, mental and psychological status, marks obtained, grades and answer sheets, are all treated as personal information.
“Similarly, professional records, including qualification, performance, evaluation reports, ACRs, disciplinary proceedings, etc. are all personal information. Medical records, treatment, choice of medicine, list of hospitals and doctors visited, findings recorded, including that of the family members, information relating to assets, liabilities, income tax returns, details of investments, lending and borrowing, etc. are personal information. Such personal information is entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy and conditional access is available when stipulation of larger public interest is satisfied. This list is indicative and not exhaustive…”
Regarding the information on fund transfer, Ms Punhani stated that Mr Agrawal was seeking 'clarification' and not 'information' envisaged under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act.
Ms Punhani further observed:
• “The appellant shall note that outstretching the interpretation of section 2(f) of the RTI Act to include deductions and inferences to be drawn by the CPIO is unwarranted as it casts immense pressure on the CPIOs to ensure that they provide the correct deduction/ inference to avoid being subject to penal provisions under the RTI Act.
• “Further, the information sought by the appellant on point no. 2 of the RTI application regarding contract, agreement, etc., if any, signed between CEO and Hockey India is a commercially sensitive information, which is exempted from disclosure under section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act.”
Ms Punhani, however, ordered that information on “duties, responsibilities, powers, and other rights given to CEO at Hockey India” is generic information and the public authority should make it available on its public domain. She directed the CPIO to take necessary action.
You may also want to read our earlier stories on Hockey India…
(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".)