RTI Judgement Series: Expert committee report not part of a fiduciary relationship
An expert committee report was denied by the PIO on the grounds that it was held in a fiduciary capacity and hence exempted under Section 8 (1)(e) of the RTI Act. This contention was rejected by the CIC. This is the 13th in a series of important judgements given by Shailesh Gandhi, former CIC that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
The Public Information Officer (PIO) cannot deny information by merely citing Section 8 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and without giving adequate reasoning. While giving this important judgement, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner directed the PIO "to send a copy of the report submitted by the Expert Committee of the Council in respect of the proposed University School of Architecture Planning of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIU), and the attested copy of the minutes/record note of discussions of the meeting deliberations of the said Executive Committee to the appellant."
"Since Right to Information is a fundamental right of citizens, where denial has to be only on the basis of the exemptions under Section 8 (1), it is necessary to carefully explain the reasons of how any of the exemptions apply, when a PIO wishes to deny information on the basis of the exemptions. Merely quoting the sub-section of Section 8 is not adequate. Giving information is the rule and denial the exception," the Central Information Commission (CIC) said in its order dated 9 February 2009.
Mumbai resident R Sridhran, on 10 July 2008, sought attested copies of an Expert Committee report. He requested the following information from the PIO, Council of Architecture at the ministry of human resource development (HRD) of the Government of India...
1. Council of Architecture may kindly refer to enclosed copy of their letter no. CA-5/Academic dated 18/01/2008 addressed to members of the Expert Committee for their visit in the context of evaluation of the proposal of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIU) to start the five-year full time course in B Arch. In the GGSIPU's University school of Architecture & Planning and provide me with an attested complete copy of the said Expert Committee's report/recommendations.
2. It may kindly be indicated as to whether the recommendations/report of the aforesaid Expert Committee have been reviewed by the Executive Committee of the Council of Architecture. If so, an attested copy of the minutes/record note of discussions of the meeting / deliberations of the said Executive Committee may kindly be provided to me indicating the names of the members of the Committee who attended the meeting.
3. An attested copy of the latest response sent (position as on dated) by the Council of Architecture to the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University on their proposal referred to in (a) above.
The PIO refused to give the copy of the report submitted by the Expert Committee of the Council in respect of the proposed University School of Architecture Planning of GGSIPU. He had also denied the minutes and deliberations of the Executive Committee constitute the decision making process of the Council. This information has been claimed to be exempt under Section 8 (1)(e) by the PIO.
The First Appellate Authority (FAA) has further claimed exemption under Section 8 (1)(g) stating that giving the information may divulge the source of information or assistance given for law enforcement purpose.
Mr Sridhran, then approached the CIC. In his written submission before the Commission, the PIO claimed that "...experts appointed by the Council… for inspecting architectural institutions is exempted under Section 8 (1)(e) of the Right to Information Act as the same are in the nature of fiduciary information. Such a relationship warrants the maintenance of highest confidentiality of the manner and method of evaluation, both by the Council and the experts and thus is in fiduciary relationship to each other."
He also contended that Regulation 30 (4) & (5) of the Council of Architecture Regulations, 1982, enjoins that the reports of inspectors are of confidential nature. The PIO also claimed that the inspection reports are also exempt under Section 8 (1)(g) of the RTI act as disclosure could endanger the life or physical safety or identify the source of information given in confidence for law enforcement.
Mr Gandhi, in his order noted that in the present case no reasoning has been given initially or in the written submissions by the PIO as to how releasing the report would lead to endangering the life or physical safety or identify the source of information given in confidence for law enforcement. "In the absence of any reasoning, the exemption under Section 8 (1)(g) is held to have been applied without any basis," he said.
The PIO's second basis for denial was Section 8 (1)(e) on the ground that the information-"the report of the Expert Committee"-is held by the Public authority in a fiduciary relationship.
"When a committee is formed to give a report, the information provided by it in the report cannot be said to be given in a fiduciary relationship. All relationships usually have an element of trust, but all of them cannot be classified as fiduciary. The information in the report was certainly not given for the benefit of the Expert Committee. Hence, the contention that the Expert Committee gave the report in a fiduciary relationship is not correct," Mr Gandhi, the CIC, said.
The Commission directed the PIO to provide copy of the report by the Executive Committee and also attested copy of the minutes of the meeting of the Committee before 25 February 2009.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC /SG/A/2008/00213/1566
Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2008/00213
Appellant : R Sridharan,
Respondent 1 : Vinod Kumar,
Registrar & PIO,
Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India
Council of Architecture,
India Habitat Centre, Core-6A, 1st Floor,
Lodhi Road, New Delhi - 110003