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Seeking information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act can be costly at times. Especially when you are asked to cough up as much as Rs 56,000 for some information, you would probably think again before using the Act.
Advocate Vinod Sampat, too, was shocked when he was asked by the Andheri Land Records office to pay an amount of Rs 56, 268 to get information on the structures located on collector’s land across the city.
Sampat had made an application on September 21 to inquire about it. He needed the accurate information to be part of the reference books he is writing on property matters. “I wanted information on such properties because buying properties situated on collector’s land costs an extra amount,” said Sampat.
“However, I was shocked to see the amount asked by the Andheri office,” he said. And the amount was asked only for information on the properties situated under the jurisdiction of Andheri office.
A shocked Sampat wrote to the Chief Information Commissioner Suresh Joshi, on Wednesday, asking him to ascertain the amount demanded from him. He also wrote to the Land Records Officer, Andheri, MT Ingle seeking a clarification on how the amount was arrived.
As per RTI rules, Rs 2 per page is demanded to provide information. “That means they were giving me 28,000 pages as information,” said an amused Sampat.
He said that if his queries were not answered, he would file an appeal with the appellate authority.
When contacted, Ingle said he had charged Sampat according to the rates specified by the state government and the revenue department.
Joshi said that in such cases, it is better for the applicants to ask for the inspection of the files so that they can pin-point the actual documents needed. They can also come in appeal to the commission, he said.
“The information officers can charge rates only as prescribed by the state government and in this case, it is found that the concerned officer is trying to willfully mislead the people, strict action will be taken,” he added.
However, Sampat said that the inspection point should have been mentioned in the letter, “instead of just frightening the applicant by demanding such an astronomical amount.”
“Do you believe that the Land Records office must have counted all the 28,000 pages?”
Central Information Commission
Dated, the 20th September, 2006
Name of the Appellant : Sh. N. Anbarasan, APPLESOFT, #39,1st, Cross, 1st Main, Shivnagar, W.C. Road,Bangalore â€“ 560 010.
Name of the Public Authority: Indian Overseas Bank, Central Office, Customer Service Department, P.B.No.3765, 763, Anna Salai, Chennai â€“ 600 002.
Facts of the Case:
The appellant had sought the following information from the CPIO of the Indian Overseas Bank:
â€œRequest/invitation for proposal/quotation, Quotations, Technical bid, Commercial bid submitted by various language software (like Hind isoftware, Tamil software etc.) suppliers related to supply of software to all the Head/corporate offices and sub-ordinate offices/branches.
Purchase Order/Supply Order placed on various language software suppliers related to supply of software.
Request/invitation for proposal/quotation, Quotations, Technical bid, Commercial bid submitted by various vendors/dealers related to purchase of computers like PC, Server, Thin client etc. to the Head/Corporate offices and sub-ordinate offices/branches. Minutes/proceedings of the various committees involved in the
purchase of software/hardware.
Delivery Challans, Bills/Invoice, orders passed to make the payment, letter of sanction etc. related to purchase of computers like PC, Server, Thin client etc. to the sub-ordinate offices/branches.â€
[*]In his reply, the CPIO informed that information sought is: â€œExempted under Section 8(1)(d) of the Act as the information falls under â€œcommercial confidenceâ€ and â€œTrade Secretsâ€ which would harm the competitive position of the third parties and the larger public interest does not warrant such disclosure.â€
[*]The appellate authority has upheld the decision of the CPIO.
In a recent decision of the Commission, the following was observed: (Decision No.216 dated 31st August 2006):
â€œTransparency in functioning of public authorities is expected to be ensured through the exercise of right to know, so that a citizen can scrutinize the fairness and objectivity of every public action. This objective cannot be achieved unless the information that is created and generated by public bodies is disclosed in the form in which it exists with them.
Therefore, an information is to be provided in the form in which it is sought, u/s 7(9) of the Act. And, if it does not exist in the form in which it is asked for and provided to the applicant, there is no way that proper scrutiny of public action could be made to determine any deviations from the established practices or accepted policies.â€
In view of this, the information sought relate to the public action with regard to the processes that have been followed in purchase of computers and other accessories. Such actions clearly fall under the public domain and therefore exemption claimed u/s 8(1)(d) is not justified.
The CPIO is, therefore, directed to furnish the information sought within 15 working days from the issue of this decision. The appeal is accordingly disposed of.
(Prof. M.M. Ansari)