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  1. CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION Appeal No.ICPB/A-1/CIC/2006 Right to Information Act – Sections 6/18 Name of Appellant : Satyapal Name of Public Authority : CPIO, TCIL DECISION Decisions appealed against : The CPIO, TCIL has declined to supply a copy of a document on the ground that the same forms part of “file Noting” which, according to CPIO is exempt under the RTI Act. Appellate authority also has confirmed the decision of the CPIO. The appellant contents that he has the right to seek information contained in the “File Notings”. Facts Shri Satyapal – appellant, a resident of Delhi, applied to the CPIO, TCIL seeking for copies of certain documents by a letter dated 17th October, 2005. By a letter dated 14th November, 2005, CPIO, TCIL furnished copies of certain documents, however, stating that a particular document sought for was a file noting in the Department of Telecom and as such it was exempt from disclosure. By a letter dated 17th Nov. 2005, Shri Satyapal again wrote to the CPIO, TCIL pointing out that the information sought for by him did not fall within the ambit of Section 8 of the RTI Act and as such the same should be supplied. He also brought to the notice of CPIO, TCIL that in respect of information already furnished, a copy of a bill in respect of advertisement relating to independence day 1996 had not been supplied. By a letter dated 28th Nov. 2005, the CPIO, TCIL while furnishing a copy of the bill, once again reiterated that file notings are exempt from disclosure in terms of the clarification given by the Department of Personnel in their website. Aggrieved by this decision, Shri Satyapaul preferred an appeal to the appellate authority by a letter dated 14th Dec. 2005 stating that file notings are not exempt from disclosure in terms of Section 8 of the RTI Act. He followed up the same by letters dated 14th Dec., 31st Dec. 2005 and 5th January, 2006. The appellate authority by a letter dated 5.1.2006 rejected the appeal stating “The information sought by you pertains to the file notings of the Department of Telecommunication as also that of TCIL. I am of the view that TCIL is exempted from disclosing the information sought by you under Section 8(1)(d)&(e) of the RTI Act. UO No.7-17/95-PP dated 4.10.1995 is a part of file notings. You have mentioned in your appeal that the information has been denied misconstruing it as “file notings” by CPIO, TCIL. I confirm that these are notings in the file”. Aggrieved with the decision of the appellate authority, Shri Satyapal has filed this appeal before this Commission. According to Shri Satyapal, there is no specific exemption from disclosure as far as file notings are concerned in Section 8 of RTI Act. Commission’s Decision : It is seen that while the CPIO declined to furnish the information sought for on the ground that file notings are exempt from disclosure, the appellate authority, without confirming or rejecting the stand of CPIO that file notings are exempt from disclosure, has relied on Section 8(1)(d) and (e) of the RTI Act to deny the information. As is evident from the Preamble to the RTI Act, the Act has been enacted to vest with the citizens, the right of access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of any public authority. Conscious of the fact that access to certain information may not be in the public interest, the Act also provides certain exemptions from disclosure. Whether file notings fall within the exempted class is the issue for consideration. Section 2(f) defines information as “Any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinion, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law or the time being in force”. Section 2(j) reads : “Right to information means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to (i) inspection of work, documents, records; (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of document or records; (iii) …… (iv) …. “. In terms of Section 2(i) “Record” includes (a) any documents, manuscript and file; In the system of functioning of public authorities, a file is opened for every subject/matter dealt with by the public authority. While the main file would contain all the materials connected with the subject/matter, generally, each file also has what is known as note sheets, separate from but attached with the main file. Most of the discussions on the subject/matter are recorded in the note sheets and decisions are mostly based on the recording in the note sheets and even the decisions are recorded on the note sheets. These recordings are generally known as “file notings”. Therefore, no file would be complete without note sheets having “file notings”. In other words, note sheets containing “file notings” are an integral part of a file. Some times, notings are made on the main file also, which obviously would be a part of the file itself. In terms of Section 2(i), a record includes a file and in terms of Section 2(j) right to information extends to accessibility to a record. Thus, a combined reading of Sections 2(f), (i)&(j) would indicate that a citizen has the right of access to a file of which the file notings are an integral part. If the legislature had intended that “file notings” are to be exempted from disclosure, while defining a “record” or “file” it could have specifically provided so. Therefore, we are of the firm view, that, in terms of the existing provisions of the RTI Act, a citizen has the right to seek information contained in “file notings” unless the same relates to matters covered under Section 8 of the Act. Thus, the reliance of the CPIO, TCILO on the web site clarification of the Department of Personnel to deny the information on the basis that ‘file notings’ are exempted, is misplaced. However, it is seen from the decision of the appellate authority that he was of the view that TCIL was exempted from disclosing the information sought, under Section 8(1)(d)&(e) of RTI Act. In terms of Section 8, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information relating to matters covered under subsections (a) to (j) of that Section. Section 8(d) exempts information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property and Sub section (e) exempts information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship. Even then, at the discretion of the competent authority even these information could be disclosed if he is of the opinion that public interest so warrants. From the decision of the appellate authority of TCIL, which is not a speaking one, it is not clear whether the file notings, a copy of which was denied to the appellant, relate to commercial confidence or trade secret or intellectual property or is available to TCIL in its fiduciary relationship. Direction : Since we have held that file notings are not, as a matter of law, exempt from disclosure, the CPIO, TCIL is directed to furnish the information contained in the file notings, on or before 15.2.2006 to the appellant. However, if the CPIO, TCIL is still of the opinion that the said file notings are exempt under Section 8(d) & (e), he is at liberty to place the file notings before the Commission on 13.2.2006 at 11 AM to determine whether the same is exempt under these sections and even if so, whether disclosure of the same would be in the public interest or not. Let a copy of this decision be sent to CPIO, TCIL and the appellant. Sd/- (Padma Balasubramanian) Information Commissioner Sd/- (Wajahat Habibullah) Chief Information Commissioner
  2. The proposed amendments to this Act were or are: All file notings to be exempted except for social and development projects. No cabinet paper to be disclosed even after a decision has been taken. Aren't these both amendments fatal to the spirit of the main Right to Information Act of 2005? The government's intent in confining it only to social and development projects is a very worrisome limitation. Any file note may end up being considered as not pertaining to social or development project, just to deny access.
  3. ganpat1956

    Rana allowed access to file noting

    AHMEDABAD: A crucial decision of the Gujarat Information Commission (GIC), on Wednesday, is about to stir the hornet's nest in the power corridors of Gandhinagar. Principal secretary, women and child development, J S Rana — who has been fighting a long-drawn battle against a departmental inquiry set against him by the former chief secretary P K Laheri — has been allowed access to a crucial file noting that led to the inquiry. The General Administration Department (GAD) had denied Rana access to this file on the grounds that there was no larger public interest involved in disclosing Laheri's file noting. Rana then used the Right to Information (RTI) Act to gain access to the file noting alleging that Laheri had not consulted senior officials of Industries and Mines and the General Administration Department (GAD) as a matter of 'prudence' before initiating the inquiry. The issue dates back to April 1997 when Rana was the managing director of the Gujarat State Financial Corporation (GSFC). Laheri had alleged in his file noting made in January 2005 that Rana had favoured a private promoter of the Gujarat Pipava Port by lowering the interest rates for a Rs 14.5-crore loan. While allowing Rana access to the file noting, state chief information commissioner R N Das ordered that file notings which are required to be made objectively by government servants consist of opinions, advice or decisions made by the officer making it. This falls under the definition of 'information' under RTI Act. File notings reveal the stages and processes of decision-making in a government body. Disclosure of notings would enhance a public authority's commitment to uphold transparency. GAD had argued before the GIC that it had treated Laheri as a third party for opinion and that Laheri had refused that the notings be given to Rana. GIC countered GAD's view saying, "When a public servant, performing his duty, makes a noting in the file, he cannot be treated as a third party. The information in the noting is not private or personal information. A file is a public document. An officer notes on the file while discharging his assigned public duty." While arguing about the matter, the applicant had also contended that if a public information officer (PIO) starts seeking concurrence of a third party, it would go against the spirit of the RTI Act. "I have GSFC on record stating that the inquiries set against me were based on forged documents. I needed these documents under RTI to prove my innocence. I have even lodged an FIR with the Gandhinagar police station on April 5 against Laheri and the inquiry panel members," says Rana. Rana allowed access to file noting-Ahmedabad-Cities-The Times of India
  4. Less than a year after it made an abortive bid to keep filing notings out of the purview of the right to information (RTI) law, the government on Thursday insisted that the law did not specifically provide for letting the public access filing notings. The Central Information Commission (CIC) had last year junked this interpretation of the information law, holding that file notings were part of the files that could be accessed under the law. In his written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel Suresh Pachouri said the RTI law “does not specifically provide for the disclosure of file notings”. The Department of Personnel and Training had last year attempted to undo the CIC’s interpretation and pushed amendments to the law to specifically keep file notings out of the purview of the RTI Act. The government, however, had to put off the plan in view of stiff opposition from RTI campaigners and Left Front leaders. The department, however, retained its controversial interpretation of the information accessible under the law on its official website that said “file notings” are out of this law’s purview. The Central Information Commission had earlier this year told the government to take this interpretation off the website since it was misleading other departments but to no avail. Pachouri also told the Rajya Sabha that the position taken on the website was in accordance with the legislative intent. Parliament did not intend to give people access to file noting under RTI: Pachouri- Hindustan Times
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