A citizen can seek information under the RTI Act, irrespective of his official designation. Also information about a dead person’s PF account and his contributions can be disclosed, as such disclosures cannot be considered invasion on the privacy of the dead, ruled the CIC. This is the 62nd in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Regional Provident Fund (PF) Commissioner of Employees' Provident Fund Organization (EPFO), Vellore, to provide the information sought by the applicant about a dead person’s PF account.
While giving this important judgement on 15 July 2010, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner dealt with two basic issues, information sought by a citizen, who had signed in his official capacity and whether information about a dead person’s PF account can be termed as invasion to privacy.
On the issue whether the appellant is a citizen within the meaning of Section 3 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Mr Gandhi said, “The Commission is of the view that so long as the RTI application is signed by an individual who is a citizen of India, then notwithstanding the capacity in which such application is filed, it shall be valid.”
On the issue of invasion to privacy of a dead person, the Commission ruled that on the death of the individual, the protection under Section 8(1)(j) would not be available and consequently, information pertaining to an individual’s PF account and details in relation to the same may be disclosed.
Chennai resident S Balaji, deputy manager at Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company, on 28 December 2009, sought information about his ACRs from the PIO of EPFO. Here is the information he sought...
The PIO in his reply stated that, “The Information cannot be provided as the application proposes a violation of Section 8 (e) and 8 (j) of the RTI Act.”
Not satisfied with the reply, Balaji then filed his first appeal. The First Appellate Authority (FAA) dismissed the appeal.
Balaji then approached the CIC with his second appeal. The Commission gave an opportunity to both parties for hearing on 12 July 2010. However, neither of them appeared before the CIC. On 14 July 2010, the Commission received written submissions from Balaji and the PIO. After perusing the submissions the Commission observed there were two issues, whether the appellant is a citizen within the meaning of Section 3 of the RTI Act and whether information sought related to personal information of a third party, which is exempted as per Section 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j).
Section 3 of the RTI Act stipulates that all citizens shall have the right to information, confers such right on a distinct individual who is a citizen of India.
“In the instant case, the mere fact that the appellant has signed his name in the capacity of Deputy Manager of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co does not mean that he has not filed the same as a citizen of India and cannot seek information under the RTI Act. The appellant while filing the RTI application as a citizen is free to inform the PIO about his designations and positions that he might be holding,” the Commission observed.
Mr Gandhi, the then CIC, said, “The Commission is of the view that so long the RTI application is signed by an individual who is a citizen of India, then notwithstanding the capacity in which such application is filed, it shall be valid. The appellant, therefore, is a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of Section 3 of the RTI Act. Hence, the contention of the FAA/ PIO that the appellant is a corporate entity seeking information in the guise of a ‘citizen’ is devoid of any merit and is liable to be rejected.”
The PIO had claimed exemption under Section 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j) while rejecting to provide the information about a third party.
Exemption under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act:
Section 8(1)(e) exempts from disclosure “information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information”.
The traditional definition of a ‘fiduciary’ is a person who occupies a position of trust in relation to someone else, therefore requiring him to act for the latter's benefit within the scope of that relationship. Another important characteristic of such a relationship is that the information must be given by the holder of the information out of his own choice, the CIC noted.
It said, any information provided in discharge of a statutory requirement such as the requirements specified under the Employees Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, and the schemes framed thereunder which include opening of a PF account, compulsory contribution to the same by the employer and the employee cannot be considered to have been given in a fiduciary relationship.
“The particulars of the salary paid to late G Raghupathy while working as general manager in Ganga Food Products provided in furtherance to the EPF Act cannot be considered as information available to the EPFO in a fiduciary capacity. Therefore, the exemption under Section 8(1)(e) relied upon by the PIO and upheld by the FAA is liable to be rejected,” the Commission ruled.
Exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act:
Section 8(1)(j) exempts the disclosure of information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.
To qualify for this exemption the information must be “personal information”. Various public authorities while performing their functions routinely ask for ‘personal’ information from citizens. In other words, except for information, which is obtained by a public authority while using extraordinary powers, the disclosure of information, which is routinely collected by a public authority, and routinely provided by an individual, would not be an invasion on the privacy of the individual, the Commission observed.
It said, voluntary contribution and withdrawals from the PF fund are clearly matters of personal choice just as an amount deposited in and withdrawn from a bank is a route for savings and in the instant case, the disclosure would certainly be an unwarranted invasion on the privacy of an individual and be protected from disclosure under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
However, the Commission, said “on the death of the individual, the said protection would not be available and consequently, information pertaining to an individual’s PF account and details in relation to the same may be disclosed”.
Mr Gandhi said, it must be noted that on the death of an individual, all information pertaining to him may not be disclosed and certain information may continue to be protected by his right to privacy even after death.
He said, “...the Commission is of the view that information pertaining to an individual’s PF account, contributions made from his salary does not come within the ambit of information that continues to remain protected from disclosure even after the death of the individual and can be disclosed under the RTI Act since such disclosure cannot be considered an invasion on the privacy of a person who is dead.”
Balaji, in his submission had claimed that disclosure of this information would serve a larger public interest. He also contended that disclosure of such information will expedite the settlement of an ongoing dispute between the parties, which would benefit the family of the victim as well as safeguard the interest of public money held by his company.
The Commission said, the appellant’s argument that giving information would help to resolve ongoing disputes is a specious argument. “It is not for the Commission to decide how disputes would get resolved and is only able to understand that disclosure of information may result in outcomes which would be of advantage to one or the other side. Therefore, the argument that disclosure of the information sought by the appellant would serve a larger public interest is not accepted,” Mr Gandhi said in his order.
While allowing the appeal, he then directed the PIO to provide all the information available with it sought by the appellant before 10 August 2010. If any of the information sought by the appellant is not held by the public authority, it should be stated, the CIC said.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2010/001462/8540
Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2010/001462
Appellant : S Balaji,
Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd, No.25/26, Prince Towers, IV Floor,
College Road, Chennai - 600006
Respondent : Public Information Officer
Regional PF Commissioner, EPFO
31, Filtered Road,
Vellore - 632001
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