Hockey India, which petitioned against the central information commission’s (CIC's) order under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and was given time to reply with the stick that the CIC’s order in the meanwhile stands valid, has withdrawn its petition last week, thus paving the way for better transparency.
The public information officer (PIO) of Hockey India had refused to provide information to RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal to release information, all of which falls within the ambit of mandatory disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act. The central public information officer (CPIO) said that Hockey India took the cover of exemption clauses under Section 8 of the RTI Act. It also insisted that it is a private entity as most of its funding comes from private sponsors.
Insisting that Hockey India is a public authority, Mr Agrawal filed a second appeal with CIC, with relevant documents to prove the public authority status. CIC gave a ruling in his favour. Subsequently, Hockey India went to the Delhi High Court against this decision.
While there are many cases of high courts completely overturning CIC decisions, the Delhi High Court in this case, held Hockey India on a tight leash as, in its interim order of 20 January 2022, it ordered Hockey India to execute the CIC order.
The judge stated in the order, “It is made clear that the direction to produce the information, directed to be disclosed by the CIC…shall not discharge the petitioner (Hockey India) of its obligation to comply with the impugned order of the CIC." In the meanwhile, it gave time to the sports body to submit its reply. Instead, on 27 July 2022, the latter withdrew its case.
Emboldened by this withdrawal and subsequent dismissal of the case by the Delhi High Court, Mr Agrawal has once again written to CIC Amita Pandove to direct the CPIO of Hockey India to provide all documents now to be provided free-of-cost under Section 7 (6) of the RTI Act.
The information sought comprised complete list of members of Hockey India revealing only their designation and official addresses; names of employees of Hockey India along with their pay, i.e., gross income; information pertaining to the monthly rents paid by Hockey India at each of the addresses since the date of occupation; copy of rent agreement and correspondence for change of office; designation of the signatories on bank accounts only; available information on record pertaining to fund transfer by Hockey India to bank accounts in foreign countries, mentioning only the purpose for such fund transfer; and; available information on record pertaining to the cash withdrawals made by Hockey India, mentioning only the purpose for such cash withdrawal.
Ms Pandove, in her CIC order, observed that, while it is a fact that Hockey India is largely being funded by private entities, “the official website of Hockey India highlights the fact that the Odisha government and the Sports Authority of India (SAI) as one of the leading team partners, which means that Hockey India is being funded or sponsored by the government directly or indirectly…the news of the Odisha government coming forward to sponsor the Indian Hockey teams was also reported in the media, in the recent past. Hence, the information sought in the instant RTI application should have been provided to the appellant.”
It is worth recalling here that, in 2014, a press release had been issued by the Union ministry of youth affairs and sports, declaring that all sports bodies receiving a grant of Rs10 lakh or more annually shall come under the RTI Act.
The press release had stated and, of course, stands valid to date, that:
• All national sports federations (NSFs) receiving grant of Rs10 lakh or more in a year as public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
• Further, as per the provisions under Section 4(2) of the RTI Act it has been made incumbent upon all the public authorities to suo-moto disclose information on the various activities carried out by them. This is the requirement of good governance and transparency in sports bodies.
• The government has asked the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the NSFs to place the following information on their website latest by 20-08-2014:
• (i) Complete details of officials who were sent to Commonwealth Games (CWG) by IOA/NSFs along with the amount paid such as air fare, boarding and lodging, local transportation, daily allowance etc.
• (ii) List of players (along with support personnel) who actually participated in CWG. Further, the IOA and NSFs have been asked to place the following information on their website with regard to all international events to be held in India and abroad:
a) List of core probables and basis of their selection.
b) Details of coaching camps organised including venues, dates and list of participants.
c) Notification of selection criteria for such events well in advance along with the details of time and venue for selection.
d) List of the athletes selected.
e) Details of athletes, support personnel and other officials sent to the event along with the amount paid to them towards air fare, boarding and lodging, local transportation, daily allowance, etc. This is required to be placed on the website within 15 days of the conclusion of the event.
f) Performance criteria which formed the basis of selection, actual performance in terms of timing, distance, etc, and the position obtained by each athlete/ team.
(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”.)