CIC Asks MHA to Provide Details of Mercy Plea to Mother of A Death-Sentenced Convict under RTI
The central information commission (CIC) has asked the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) to provide the mother of a death row convict lodged at Pune’s Yerawada Central Jail, file notings, relating to his mercy petition, but by making opaque the names of officials who have noted on those files, to guard their personal safety.
 
Ujwala Kokde had filed an RTI application with the central public information officer (CPIO), judicial division, in the MHA seeking information pertaining to the mercy petition of her son, Pradeep Kokde, who is facing death sentence. The information she sought comprised (i) copy of any memo/note/comment made in relation to the mercy petition filed by Pradeep Kokde, (ii) copy of the entire mercy petition file of Pradeep Kokde, and (iii) copy of the file notings pertaining to the file of the mercy petition filed by Pradeep Kokde.
 
The CPIO denied information on the ground under Article 74(2) of Constitution of India, which states that, “the question whether any, and if so what, advice was tendered by ministers to the President shall not be inquired into in any court.” 
 
She filed her first appeal with the first appellate authority (FAA) of the MHA but did not receive any response and so filed a second appeal with the CIC.
 
At the CIC hearing on 11 June 2019, Ms Kokde was represented by Ragni Ahuja through video conferencing. He stated that the CPIO denied Ms Kokde information under Article 74 (2) of the Constitution of India but this reason is invalid as the information she has sought does not pertain to any ministerial advice, which is protected under Article 74(2) of the Constitution.
 
Mr Ahuja further stated that the material including file noting and correspondence on which the advice is based is not privileged and hence, not covered under the Article 74 (2). 
 
Quoting two cases, he stated that the Supreme Court, a seven judge bench in one case and a nine judge bench in another, had not only allowed notings made by high constitutional functionaries but in one of the cases, directed CIC to provide complete information requisitioned under RTI.
 
The CPIO, at the hearing, insisted that the ministerial advice, opinion and recommendation is made to the President on the basis of the documents, i.e. file noting, petition and letters and, hence, the same are privileged under Article 74 (2) of the Constitution of India and cannot be disclosed under the RTI Act.
 
Sudhir Bhargava, the chief information commissioner (CIC), who was hearing the second appeal, passed an order stating that the MHA should provide all the file notings asked for by Ms Kokde but by scratching off all the names of the officials who have noted in the files, for their personal safety. 
 
His order of 12 June 2019, states: “the file noting and correspondence received or sent by the ministry of home affairs pertaining to the appellant’s mercy petition which is not a part of the ministerial advice to the President as well as the file noting relating to the file of the mercy petition file by Shri Pradeep Yeshwanth Kokde as sought by the appellant (Ms Kokde) can be provided to the appellant.”
 
“The Commission, however, observes that the file noting and the correspondence could contain the names of the officials recording the same, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of these officials and hence its disclosure is exempted under Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act. In view of this, the Commission directs the respondent to provide the information sought for, after severing all the names and other references which could reveal the identities of the public officials concerned, to the appellant…”
 
It may be noted that Ms Kokde filed her RTI application on 13 July 2017 with the CPIO in the MHA; her first appeal on 22 August 2017 with the FAA, MHA and her second appeal on 21 December 2017 with the CIC at Delhi. However, the second appeal’s hearing, that is the CIC hearing came up one year, 11 months later, that is on 11 June 2019!
 
One of the court orders that CIC Bhargava cited to come to his decision, revolves around a court judgment. It mulls over which of the public interest is larger – whether the disclosure will cause unwarranted invasion of privacy or needs to be disclosed for larger public interest:
 
“Moreover, regarding the documents/material which do not form a part of the advice and the consequent disclosure of the same in the interest of justice, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Union of India vs. P.D. Khandelwal case [W.P. (C) 8396 of 2009, judgment dated 30.11.2009] had also held:
 
34. Possibly the only class of documents which are granted immunity from disclosure is those mentioned under Article 74(2) of the Constitution. These are documents or information which are granted immunity from disclosure not because of their contents but because of the class to which they belong.
 
Other documents and information which do not fall under Article 74(2) of the Constitution cannot be held back on the ground that they belong to a particular class which is granted absolute protection against disclosure. All other documents/information is not granted absolute or total immunity.
 
Protection from disclosure is decided by balancing the two competing aspects of public interest, i.e., when disclosure would cause injury or unwarranted invasion of privacy and on the other hand if non-disclosure would throttle the administration of justice or in this case, the public interest in disclosure of information. In such cases, the court/CIC has to decide, which of the two public interests pre-dominates.”
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    SBI Stonewalls RTI Plea on Electoral Bonds, Despite Sharing Info with Government
    The recent news reports of the State Bank of India having sold electoral bonds of Rs5851 crore in the months of March and April, spurred the Right to Information (RTI) activists to seek more information from the bank and from the department of economic affairs, finance ministry, but their requests  are being stonewalled.
     
    Vihar Durve, Pune based RTI activist, to whom the SBI had replied under his RTI request that the SBI sold electoral bonds worth Rs1365.69 crore in March and Rs2256.37 in April, filed an RTI application for more information on this issue.
     
    He has now asked them to furnish all letters between the years 2017 and 2019, falling under correspondence/directions/notifications/ emails relating to the electoral bonds received from the Reserve Bank of India, any other government department or any other competent authority. He has also asked for information on the action taken by SBI to all these correspondences and copies of the acts, rules, notifications, office memoranda and circulars relating to the electoral bonds.
     
    The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) has declined to provide information under the garb of it being an issue of `fiduciary relationship’ by stating in his reply that: ``Information sought by the applicant cannot be disclosed as it is in fiduciary capacity, disclosure of which is exempted under Section 8 (1) (e) and 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act 2005; As for the requisition on the web link where such documents of larger public interest have been uploaded, the RBI stated in its reply that `no such web link is maintained.’’ Durve is planning a second appeal as well as seeking legal intervention.
     
    Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), noted Delhi based RTI activist has also sent an RTI requisition to the department of economic affairs (DEA). He has sought information on phase-wise and denomination-wise information in respect of electoral bonds (EBs) sold mentioning the amount in  rupees as follows: (a) sale and EBS start date; (b) sale and EBS end date; (c) redemption of EBS end date; (d) denomination-wise (i) number of EBS sold with (ii) amount in  Rupees; (e) denomination-wise (i) EBS redeemed with amount in  Rupees; (f) denomination-wise & amount-wise, ‘funds  transferred to PMNRF; (g) complete process / steps of how and who (public authority) transfers funds to PMNRF and; (h)  redeemed percentage.”
     
    CPIO of the department of economic affairs washed off his hands stating that such information is not available at all. Alleges Batra, ``the CPIO through his letter of 14th June, has provided misleading and false information amounting to saying that information sought is not available all. While most of the information requested was included in table form in the government affidavit filed in Hon’ble SC in in Case WP(C) 880/2017, in the matter of “ADR Vs Union of India & Others. The DEA’s affidavit clearly reveals that SBI has been regularly and phase-wise, sharing information with the government.”
     
    Adds Batra, ``It has always been dreaded that the ‘government in power’ would come to know through the SBI - the names of donors of ‘electoral bonds’ to the political parties. This fear is coming closer to certainty after the opaqueness displayed by first the SBI and now the government (department of economic affairs (DEA), ministry of finance) in denying information under the RTI Act.’’ Batra has now filed a second appeal as well as a complaint to the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), seeking the required information and penalty to the CPIO, DEO for misleading information in his reply. 
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    3 months ago

    When the information commissioners have themselves subverted the law that they have been tasked, empowered, equipped and paid to enforce, so thoroughly why should the public authorities be worried about the scarecrow called RTI Act? I dare say if Sec 219 of the IPC were to be invoked all the ICs (if there are the usual exceptions they are not known) would be spending the rest of their lifes and beyond behind bars. In fact I had challenged the then VP, Hamid Ansari and the current Prez, Kovind, to get atleast 4 correct decisions of ICs across the country which are correct not only as decisions but having followed the correct procedure.

    shadi katyal

    3 months ago

    Why would SBI deny any such information unless it is trying to protect the party which floated such bonds and under what rules. Common man is not aware what it was or is and stands for.
    Are these the funds used by BJP to win elections and buy opposition members if so people of the nation should know such in details.
    When wa this bill passed to issue such Bonds?

    Mumbai Police recovers Rs. 3.55 lakhs from Mumbai Indians for IPL Victory Rally, reveals RTI
    Mumbai Indians, the winners of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) shelled Rs. 3.55 lakhs for their victory rally’s security as revealed in a RTI query filed by civic RTI activist Anil Galgali. The victory rally which started from Mumbai Indian’s owner Mukesh Ambani’s house Antilia went all the way to Trident hotel in Nariman Point. 
     
    Mr. Galgali’s RTI application asked the Mumbai Police details regarding the designations and the number of officers who were present in the victory rally as part of the security arrangements and also the expenses payable by Mumbai Indians to the State Police. 
     
    He filed the RTI with both Mumbai Police and the Traffic Police and received a response to his query on 31st May, which stated that the bill generated was to the tune of Rs3.55 lakhs. This bill was later generated in the name of M/s Indiawin Sports Co., a company under the Ambani Group and this amount was later paid in full on 4th June’19. 
     
    The Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Mumbai Police in his response to Mr. Galgali also stated that in one shift, two Police Inspectors (PI), one Assistant PI, two PI and hundred constables were deployed to give security for the rally. 
     
    Questioning the legitimacy of the rally, Mr. Galglai pointed out how the entire region comes under the silence zone and therefore no rally could be legally permitted there. Questioning the police department’s actions further, Mr. Galgali observed, “The Mumbai Police has still maintained a discreet silence on the issue of permissions sought. It has not provided any reply pertaining to the query, whether permissions were sought by the organisers or not? Also were permissions given by the police department?” 
     
    Mr Galgali has filed a similar RTI recently with the Mumbai Police asking for details on the amount owed to them for security coverage during past IPLs and other tournaments. In response to this query, the PIO of Mumbai Police responded that the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) owes the Mumbai Police an amount of Rs21.34 crores including pending interest of Rs5.61 crore due for providing security during IPL and other major cricket tourneys till 2018. This also includes an amount of Rs1.48 crore which the MCA owes Mumbai Police for security provided during the 2018 edition of IPL.
     
    Pointing out how this is a huge win for the RTI act, Mr. Galgali was quoted saying, “The Public Authorities call us RTI users blackmailers and disturbers, but had I not filed this RTI, would the Mumbai Police have even  generated the bill and recovered the charges for security? This goes on to show just how very important the RTI act is to bring transparency and accountability in the system”
     
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