The Appellant does not have to show any public interest in disclosure of the information unless an exemption under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act applies to the information, the CIC ruled. This is the 205th in a series of important RTI judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi
The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Allahabad Bank to provide the information, which the PIO has declined under Section 8(b) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
While giving the judgement on 18 June 2012, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner, said, "The Lawmakers have specifically exempted information, which has been expressly forbidden by any court of law of tribunal but not exempted matters merely because they are sub-judice. In the instant case the PIO has not established any claim for exemption as per Section 8(1) of the RTI Act and hence there is no need for the appellant to show any public interest in this disclosure."
Satna, Madhya Pradesh resident, Bihari Singh, on 29 December 2011, sought from the PIO information regarding a letter, an affidavit and agenda of the Bank's board meeting on 26 December 2011. Here is the information the appellant had sought and the reply provided by the PIO...
Provide certified copy of the letter no. SSB/HO/VIG/01771 Satna dated 06/06/94.
PIO's reply- It is under consideration of the Arbitration Appellate Authority, whose hearing has been scheduled. As per Section 8(b) of the RTI Act, information regarding any proceedings in the Court of Law or Tribunal is exempt from disclosure.
Provide certified copy of the agenda that was send to the Board of directors regarding the board meeting on 26/12/2011.
PIO's reply- The information sought is not in public interest. Thus, the information cannot be made public and thus cannot be provided.
Provide certified copies of the affidavits by the bank on episode no. PMA/MCJ/12/2002 in Arbitration, New Delhi.
PIO's reply- This information can be provided as the proceeding is pending on the Arbitration Tribunal. As per Section 8(b) of the RTI Act, information regarding any proceedings in the Court of Law or Tribunal is exempt from disclosure.
Provide certified copies of the suspension order no. ----193-94/8849 dated 03/02/94.
PIO's reply- Copy of the suspension order has been enclosed.
Bihari Singh, the appellant, citing incomplete and unsatisfactory information provided by the PIO, then filed his first appeal. The First Appellate Authority (FAA), while disposing the appeal, upheld the PIO's decision/reply.
Bihari Singh, then approached the CIC with his second appeal.
During the hearing, Mr Gandhi, the then CIC, noted that both the parties were given an opportunity for hearing, but neither party appeared. "From a perusal of the papers it appears that the PIO has denied information on query 01 & 03 under Section 8(1)(b) of the RTI Act," he said.
Section 8(1)(b) of the RTI Act exempts, “information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;”.
Mr Gandhi said, "The PIO has incorrectly applied this exemption and denied the information on the ground that any proceedings in a court of law or tribunal are exempt. The Lawmakers have specifically exempted information which has been expressly forbidden by any court of law of tribunal but not exempted matters merely because they are subjudice. No evidence has been shown that the information on query 1 & 3 has been prohibited from disclosure by any Court of Law or Tribunal. In view of this, the Bench does not accept the claim of exemption by the PIO with regards to query 1 & 3 of the RTI Application."
The PIO had also refused to disclose the information on query 2 on the ground that there is no public interest in disclosure of this information. "The Appellant does not have to show any public interest in disclosure of the information unless an exemption under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act applies to the information. Only if an exemption under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act is applicable, the PIO may still disclose the information as per the provisions of Section 8(2) of the RTI Act. In such an event a larger public interest in disclosure has to be shown. In the instant case, the PIO has not established any claim for exemption as per Section 8(1) of the RTI Act and hence there is no need for the appellant to show any public interest in this disclosure."
While allowing the appeal of Bihari Singh, the Bench of Mr Gandhi directed the PIO to provide information on query 1, 2 & 3 before 5 July 2012.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2012/001239/19290
Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2012/001239
Appellant : Bihari Singh
Behind Little Flower Public School,
Prabhat Vihar Colony, Satna,
Respondent : Public Information Officer
Head Office, Civil Lines,
Satna, Madhya Pradesh
It would be in the interest of FCI and its associates in the warehousing business to seriously look at polybags for storing food grains until such time suitable warehouses are built in the country
Warehousing of food grains, proper storage and upkeep, protection from bad weather and rodents, besides natural decay and weather effects, are becoming a big business opportunity for those who can manage the problems and handle upto a mammoth 120 million tonnes of grains in our country. This capacity need to cover our chemical fertiliser storage too, which is essential for the development and growth of the agricultural industry.
In simple terms, it is a capital intensive business, needing about Rs5,000 per tonne of warehousing and would require a minimum 10-12 years for a break-even of costs.
The biggest and widest storage capacity is held by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and its associate organisations. There are state-wise storage capacities as well. Central Warehousing Corporation alone, for example, has 490 warehouses that can hold 9.8 million tonnes of food grains. Besides these, State Warehousing corporations in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Kerala take care of the local needs, though, not sufficient to meet the entire demand.
In the meantime, it is gratifying to note the reports from Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) indicate that though there is some shortfalls in some areas, on the whole the rainfall situation is not as alarming as originally thought, presuming that El Nino would cause great hardship. So far, so good.
In the meantime, the aam aadmi has been assured that there is sufficient stock of food grains in our national godowns and if there is a monsoon failure, the government will be able to meet the needs of the population.
It may be recalled that Moneylife had carried a detailed story on the food grains lost, which FCI had "admitted" to be 174,502 tonnes between 2005 and 2013 due to natural decay, pilferage, rodent consumption and damage, and loss due to weather conditions, while these were "unassessable" separately.
Therefore, it is in the interim period that efforts should be made to organise and expand storage facilities in the country, for a "rainy" day! Pun intended!
In addition to the efforts made by FCI, there are many private warehousing facilities available in the country and their number is growing by the day. These are considered to be a good business opportunity, and clearly, it is a national effort to conserve foodgrains.
According to information available, Shree Shubham Logistics, a subsidiary of Kalpataru Power Transmission Lines Ltd, is one of the serious players, which has set up (and is also expanding) its warehousing facilities in the country. It already has storage capacity available in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and is set to plan its expansion to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telengana. It is likely to look for other areas too in the South.
In the meantime, FCI itself should investigate the export opportunities directly, so that goods are moved out of its ware houses. It should take active interest in marketing the grains at least in neighbouring countries, including the Middle East. They should no longer be satisfied with being the central warehousing and supplying source to keep the public distribution system (PDS) going. If they need professional help, they should obtain it without any hesitation.
What is of immediate importance is to study the practices adopted in countries like US, Australia and Ukraine where they have huge harvests and ship large quantities outside. We need to learn how they save their foodgrain from the weather and rodents!
One of the many ways by which they protect and store the food grains, apart from huge silos, is the use of huge grain storage bags, made in polythene, which are some 300 feet (91 metres) long and 10 feet in diameter, which are common in Argentina. These giant storages look like long sausages, covering almost the entire length of a football field with special equipment needed for filling them.
After studying the operations in Argentina, Jerry Sechler, vice-president (sales) of Loftness Specialised Equipment Inc, a Hector, Minnesota-based private firm, introduced these bagging machines in the US in 2008. There are others like Antelope Farm Suppliers, Richardson, North Dakota which can also make available these bags for storage.
These polybags (white) have an outside layer to reflect the sun's heat, while the inner layer is black and acts as a barrier to sunlight and helps maintain lower than ambient temperature inside. These giant storage bags are used by farmers to hold on to their grains, so as to avoid distress selling at low prices.
It would be in the interest of FCI and its associates in the warehousing business to seriously look at polybags for storing food grains until such time suitable warehouses are built in the country. One wonders why this has not been done so far.
In any case, apart from assuring the food security for the people, the Indian government is also considering ways and means to improve FCI as an organisation, to be able to stand on its own feet, rather than being a subsidised government body. It is time the government seriously considers whether FCI should be divested whereby the government holds 26%, which should include all the land and warehouses already built as solid assets, and the rest should be offered to the public at large.
FCI should be an independent self-supporting organisation, run professionally to the best interest of the nation.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
Do air passengers prefer to know full cost of their flight up-front or do they prefer to get hit with hidden fees and taxes at checkout?
Updated July 30
The US House of Representatives on Monday approved the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 bill, which, however contradictory to its title, would hide certain government taxes and fees from consumers until checkout. It now heads to the Senate.
Our original story follows.
When it comes to airfares, do consumers prefer to know the full cost of their flight up-front or do they prefer to get hit with hidden fees and taxes at checkout?
Congress and the airline industry seem to think consumers prefer the latter. The Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, a bill supported by the bipartisan House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would void a 2012 rule that required airlines to include all mandatory taxes and fees in the base price of a ticket. The new bill would allow airlines to advertise deceptively low prices only to hit consumers with the full fare, generally 20 percent higher, at checkout.
But supporters of the bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn) along with 16 Republican and 16 Democrats, claim the full-fare advertising rule forces airlines to shoulder the blame when in fact government-related taxes and fees cause the rise in airfare.
“The cost of airline tickets will never be transparent as long as the Department of Transportation requires airlines to hide taxes, surcharges, and fees from consumers,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in an Orwellian press release.
According to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, government taxes and fees account for $63 of a typical $300 domestic flight ticket. Should the Transparent Airfares Act become law, airlines would be able to advertise those $300 tickets as costing $237, tacking on the extra $63 only at checkout.
In effect, the airline industry is seeking to take advantage of the bait-and-switch advertising that remains ubiquitous in the rest of the travel industry – a “they lie, so why can’t we?” argument. Many hotels sneak “resort fees” onto bills (an estimated $2.1 billion of them in 2013), and almost all hotels and car-rental companies advertise a base price that doesn’t include the hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees that only show up at checkout.
The FTC refers to these practices as “Drip Pricing,” and it sent letters to 22 hotel operators in 2012 warning that such practices may be violating the law. Yet drip pricing remains an issue in the travel industry, and now airlines are looking to get back in on the fun.
Consumers, however, are the ones stuck playing a guessing game when advertised prices fail to match up with the actual prices. The only thing transparent about the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 is that the airline industry wants to benefit at the expense of its customers.