Should sanctioned medical expenditure or claims of senior government officials, which are disbursed from the public treasury, be shrouded in secrecy? No, orders the state information commissioner (SIC) of Maharashtra, debunking the denials by the public information officer (PIO) and first appellate authority (FAA) of Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC or Maha Metro) under exemption clause of Section 8 (1) (j) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
IC Rahul Pandey, in his order early this month, has directed the PIO to submit details of medical expenditure and claims that were sanctioned and passed of Brijesh Dixit - managing director, MMRC, Sunil Mathur - director (rolling stocks, system & operations), Mahesh Kumar and Shivnathan (designations not found on the official website www.mahametro.org
)) to the RTI applicant with acknowledgment to his office, by 1 December 2023.
RTI applicant Pramod Joshi filed an RTI application on 3 January 2023, seeking information from MMRC of details of the medical expenditure of senior officials of MMRC and medical claims that were sanctioned by it between 2017 and 2021. He had also asked for their medical records, doctors consulted, hospitals visited and salaries of the four senior officials as mentioned above.
The PIO, on 13 January 2023, replied that the salaries of MMRC officials are uploaded on its website www.mahametro.org. However, regarding the medical claims and other details, he replied that Maha Metro is not equipped to provide this information under the exemption clause of Section 8(1) (j) of the RTI Act.
Pained by this response, Mr Joshi filed a first appeal, but FAA, on 14 February 2023, upheld the PIO’s reply. Hence, Mr Joshi filed a second appeal with the SIC, Nagpur division.
The SIC Rahul Pandey observed that it has been noticed that the PIO has considered the medical records, expenditure and claims of top officials of MMRC—Brijesh Dixit, Mahesh Kumar, Shivnathan and Sunil Mathur—as personal information. He has provided the information on their salaries which the RTI applicant asked for stating that it was in the public domain.
Additionally, FAA has asserted that the request for information pertaining to the directors' medical reports, medical expenses, treatment details, the healthcare professionals consulted, and the hospitals visited constitutes personal information. FAA cited the Supreme Court case of CPIO vs Subhashchandra Agrawal as a reference.
At the second appeal hearing, FAA argued that the Metro Railway Corporation comes under the central information commission and not the state information commission. However, SIC Pandey, rejecting this argument, analysed in his order, that the Central government has a 20% stake while the state government has a 70% stake in Maha Metro. Besides the Nagpur municipal corporation and the Nagpur improvement committee have a 5% stake each. Also, the administration of Maha Metro is limited to the state of Maharashtra as it runs the metro in Pune and Nagpur and in Nashik where it is soon to be launched. Hence, the information comes under the state information commission and the Maha Metro is duty-bound to provide the information.
SIC Pandey observed that Maha Metro should ensure transparency and it is the responsibility of the authorities of Maha Metro to be answerable to citizens’ queries, within the limits of the RTI Act. He stated that although a Supreme Court order of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs central information commission has directed that the PIO is not bound to provide personal information, as per Section 8 (2), such information should be provided if it is of larger public interest.
Terming the medical expenses of these officials as pertaining to the larger public interest, SIC Pandey has ordered the PIO of Maha Metro to provide the RTI applicant, the medical expenditure and other details asked by him, year-wise and send the acknowledgment to his office.
(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".)