MUMBAI: When Mumbai-based lawyer VT Gokhale filed a request with the Industrial Finance Corporation of India (IFCI) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, a response wasn't forthcoming.
Industrial Finance Corporation of India produced a certificate from the government that said it wasn't a â€˜public body'. Therefore, the company argued, it was outside the purview of the RTI and did not have to respond to the request.
But Gokhale persisted and went to Sebi, the stock exchange regulator. Because Sebi is a public body that comes under the RTI's canvas, it could be approached for information on another company controlled by it.
Having done that, he also went to the Central Information Commission (CIC) challenging the validity of the certificate issued by the government. In a recent ruling, the CIC favoured Gokhale, pulled by IFCI, declared the certificate it held â€˜invalid' and urged government departments and ministries to refrain from issuing such certificates. "Whether an entity is a public authority or not is to be determined only under the RTI Act," it ruled.
In July 1996, IFCI had made a public issue of five types of bonds. It collected about Rs 1,237 crore, including a green-shoe option from the bond issue. In 2003, IFCI decided to exercise its call option and asked bond holders to submit the bonds by a specified date.
Gokhale's grievance was that IFCI did not pay the redemption money by the promised date and hence, it should pay interest on the delayed period.
In his case, Gokhale was paid Rs 99 by IFCI as the penalty, but the company did not divulge full details about similar payments made to others. With the CIC order, Gokhale now hopes to get his answers in a months time.
Says RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi, "Many companies try to dodge queries under the RTI by producing such certificates." This is because, the Act is applicable only to entities either run, controlled or substantially financed by the government. "They circumvent the Act claiming not to be substantially financed by the government."
Panel pulls up IFCI for dodging RTI Act-India Business-Business-The Times of India
The CIC has directed the DoPT to produce the relevant file on Cabinet Decision for its perusal.
The matter came up while hearing an appeal filed by Smt. Aruna Roy & Shri Shekhar Singh. The appellants had earlier sought information on the decisions of Council of Ministers regarding amendments to be made in the Right to Information Act, 2005, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken in July 2006.
The Public Information Officer of the DOPT, Shri B.M. Sehgal vide his letter dated 22nd August, 2007 informed the appellants that the information requested by them under the Right to Information Act cannot be provided. The PIO also informed that based on the experience of working of the Right to Information Ac, 2005, the Government proposes to make certain amendments in the Act of 2005. The proposed Amendment Bill is yet to be considered by the Parliament and, as such, the matter is not yet complete or over. It is, therefore, not feasible to furnish details of the decisions of Council of Ministers at this stage. The First Appellate Authority of DoPT also concurred with the views of the PIO.
Aggrieved over the decision of the FAA, the present appeal was made before the CIC, where in the appellants contended that " the CPIO and the Appellate Authority are mistaken in holding that the matter is not yet complete or over". The appellants further submitted that another session of Parliament has come to a close and the matter has not again been introduced in Parliament. This clearly shows that the Government, as the concerned Minister has publicly stated, intend to re-examine the issue. Therefore, clearly the earlier Cabinet decision is no longer pending introduction in Parliament and information relating to it cannot be exempt under Section 8(1)(i) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
After hearing both parties to the proceedings and perusing the record, the Commission came to the view that the only issue that needs to be decided in this case is as to whether the Cabinet has taken any decision as regards the amendment to the Right to Information Act, 2005. If the decision has been taken in this regard, it becomes liable to be disclosed under the Right to Information Act and the appellants are entitled to get the information sought by them. However, if as contended by the Government, the matter is still pending and the same is not over, the proviso to Section 8(1)(i) does not apply and, as such, the entire material concerning a proposed amendment to the Right to Information Act remains exempt under Section 8(1)(i).
In its interim decision the This Commission said that it is left with no other alternative but to call for the relevant records to ascertain as to whether a decision has been taken in one way or the other to determine whether the matter is complete or over. The Commission, therefore, has called for the relevant documents and accordingly the concerned public authority has been directed to produce the relevant file for perusal of the Commission on 05.11.2007. Appropriate decision will be passed and directions issued if any, only thereafter by the Commission.
Decision No. CIC/WB/A/2006/01022 dated 18/10/2007 on Appeal from Smt. Aruna Roy & Shri Shekhar Singh Vs DoPT