No Denial under RTI because Information Sought Is Voluminous: Delhi HC to Indian Institute of Foreign Trade
The Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), a financial educational institute under the ministry of commerce, has been ordered by the Delhi High Court last week to comply with the central information commissioner (CIC)’s order of providing the voluminous information on various aspects of the financial expenditure of its director as well as of the institute to the right to information (RTI) applicant.
 
The two elaborate RTI applications filed by Kamaljit Chibber, a former employee of IIFT in 2015 and 2016, were rejected by the central public information officer (CPIO) which invoked the section 8 exemption clause and also denied information due to its elaborate nature which would mean providing several hundred pages. 
 
The CPIO replied, “Information sought by you is voluminous and contained in multiple files having hundreds of papers each. As such, it would not be possible for us to compile the information and send it across to you.”
 
Mr Chibber approached the CIC who ordered that “The Appellant (Chibber) has been deprived by the Respondents (IIFT) deliberately from having the benefits of the RTI Act, 2005, even after lapse of more than seven months period. Thus, the Respondents have defeated the very purpose of the RTI Act, 2005 for which it was legislated by the Parliament of India. As such, the commission feels that Appellant’s second appeal deserves to be allowed in toto.”
 
“The Respondents (IIFT) are hereby directed to provide the complete and categorical information, issue-wise, to the appellant as per his RTI application, in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act 2005, within 30 days from the date of receipt of this order under intimation to this Commission. If need be, Section 5(4) of the RTI Act may also be invoked in the matter,” he added. 
 
The CIC also cautioned Mr Chibber not to file multiple, repetition, vexatious and abusive petitions which may cause wastage of time and labour of the public authority and the commission. 
 
This spurred the IIFT to file a writ petition in Delhi HC, challenging the order of the CIC which directed it to provide the “complete and categorical information, as per the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 within 30 days.”
 
The lawyers of the IIFT argued in the hearing at the Delhi HC that Mr Chibber “has filed more than 20 RTI applications consisting of 27-50 questions. The way he drafted the RTI applications gives an impression that he kept on harassing the institution, and (is) motivated by private vengeance.” 
 
They further stated, “Chibber who has been engaging in the practice of filing numerous RTI applications with the sole motive of inconveniencing, disrupting and defaming various authorities of the petitioner… he has filed upwards of 60 RTI applications…each containing 20-30 questions which would require immense resources to compile and provide the information to the respondent herein as sought for… Thus information disclosure…was denied under Section 7(9) of the RTI Act as it would have taken a lot of resources…”
 
After hearing the arguments, Delhi HC observed that:
  • Information sought by (the respondent/RTI applicant) does not fall in any of the exemptions contained in Section 8 of the RTI Act. 
  • The only reason that has been given in the writ petition for not providing the information sought by the respondent/ RTI applicant is that the information is bulky and it is not possible for the authorities to provide the information as sought for by the respondent.
Thus:
  • The information sought would not prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India or…
  • That the information sought is not expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court or…
  • That it would not amount to a breach of privilege of Parliament or the state legislature or…
  • That the information sought for does not include commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party.
Considering the above-mentioned points, judge Subramonium Prasad J of the Delhi HC dismissed the case stating that he “does not find any reason to interfere with the order of the CIC.”
 
RTI applicant Mr Chibber, in one of his RTI applications, had sought the following information:
1. Year-wise details of income and expenditure in respect of various programmes and courses of the institute for the period of the present director.
 2. Year-wise details of income and expenditure of various courses and programmes conducted by IIFT prior to that under directorship of S/Shri Chakko, Prabir Sengupta and Dharamrajan.
3. Year-wise details of grants received from the government of India during their periods and the period of the present director. 
4. Details of expenditure made out of these grants. 
5. Year-wise details of expenditure on renovation of office of the director during the tenure of the present and said directors
6. Year-wise details of expenditure made on the purchase of computers, air conditioners, printers, fittings and fixtures in the office building under the present and said directors. 
7. The income received from the sale of computers, ACs each year during directorship of the above directors. 
8. Details of year-wise expenditure on purchase of computers, ACs, printers, audio equipment, fittings and fixtures in the office building which was made without inviting tenders/ quotations.
9. Details of expenditure made each year on foreign and inland visits/ trips of present and above past directors and approvals if any received for the same from higher authorities. 
10. Details of inland trips of present and former directors which touched their hometowns and places of their relatives. 
11. Details of income made from various foreign visits made by the present director and above past directors. 
12. Details of year-wise expenditure made on office building at Kolkata under the present and past directors and of their visits to Kolkata. 
13. Year-wise details of expenditure made on litigation and fees to advocates with details of the same also under present and said former directors. 
14. Details of income made from litigation after fees and other expenses of advocates. 
15. Details of year-wise expenditure made on recruitment of faculty under the present and said past directors.
16. Details of year-wise FDs made in different banks and the rates of interest thereon under the present and said past directors and the procedure adopted for making the same.
17. Details of losses suffered, if any, on pre-matured withdrawal of FDs under the present and past directors.
18. The details of year-wise loss caused to revenues of the institute, due to corrupt or other activities of any director and details of action taken thereon.
19. Details of year-wise expenditure on the entertainment head of present and past directors.
20. Details of year-wise expenditure on the governing body and executive meetings and on its members under the present and past three directors.
21. Details of year-wise expenditure on petrol consumption of staff car of the present director and the said three past directors.
22. Details of year-wise fees paid to auditors of the institute under the present and past three directors.
23. Details of total income and expenditure of the institute every year during the tenure of the present and past three directors.
24. Details of year-wise expenditure made on foreign visits of each one of the faculty members and the income if any received from it.
25. Year-wise details of struck payments of the institute at different places under the present and said past three directors.
26. Details of year-wise audit objections in respect of the above expenditures or otherwise for the period of present and past three directors with copies of the same.
27. Details of clarifications, if any, made to the audit objections.
 
(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".)
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