If PIOs run to courts for stay against the CIC, how will the common man get justice?

Is it a crime for a Central Information Commissioner to call for an enquiry if he finds allegedly forged records submitted by a PIO? A Delhi HC order which has given a stay on a PIO’s petition will have far-reaching consequences for a citizen who has the right to get information within 30 days

This is not the first time. In several cases, Public Information Officers (PIOs) have run to the Delhi High Court to seek a stay on impugning orders of Central Information Commissions. The court has granted ex-parte stays resulting in the case languishing for months in the court.

At the receiving end is the information seeker who under the Section 7 (1) of the RTI (Right to Information) Act has the right to get information within 30 days but is denied, due to such needless legal interventions. The other serious consequence at stake is the mockery of the role of Central Information Commissioners who are being strangulated into inaction due to such court verdicts. It also encourages PIOs to file writ petitions for flimsy reasons and get `stays’ in their favour. In short, while at one end, the central and state governments are finding ways and means to dilute and if possible nullify the RTI Act, the judiciary is adding its bit to further strengthen this process of inadvertently clamping information, by such `stays’.

The latest case pertains to an inquiry ordered by CIC Shailesh Gandhi who retired last week. The deemed CPIO who works as joint secretary (Law) in the Central Information Commission succeeded in getting a stay from the Delhi High Court despite the fact that Mr Gandhi had only ordered the “commencement of the inquiry” which is well within his right as the Central Information Commissioner. (There has been no conclusion to the inquiry which could have aggrieved the CPIO).

The sequel of events is as follows:
• On 28 January 2011, RTI applicant Navin Kumar Peer sought status of  “action taken” and its outcome report regarding a letter which he had sent to deemed CPIO Akash Deep Chakravarti, joint secretary (law), Central Information Commission on 1 December 2010
• Instead of replying to Mr Peer, on 1 February 2011, Mr Chakravarti sought assistance of the legal cell under Section 5 (4) of the RTI Act, requesting it to provide appropriate response to Mr Peer, the RTI applicant
• On 3 February 2011, Mr Chakravarti also sent a letter to the legal cell stating that the letter sent by Mr Peer is ‘incoherent’ and does not fall under Section 6 of the RTI Act and therefore he was seeking assistance of the legal cell
• Since RTI applicant Mr Peer did not receive any reply, he filed an appeal to the First Appellate Authority (FAA), Anita Gupta
• The FAA recorded that as per the file no reply had been sent and therefore directed the PIO to send a reply to Mr Peer within 10 working days. PIO MC Sharma (of the legal cell) sent an unsigned and undated letter from the legal cell on 25 April 2011
• RTI applicant Peer files second appeal on the grounds that, despite the order of the FAA, the PIO has provided incomplete and unsatisfactory information without any signature or date
• CIC Shailesh Gandhi was given the charge of hearing second appeals against the Central Information Commissions (CIC). During the hearing on 19th April, Mr Gandhi found contradictions in the records pertaining to correspondence between Mr Chakravarti, the legal department and the RTI applicant. Mr Gandhi therefore ordered the “setting up an enquiry under Section-18 of the RTI Act to uncover the true facts. The Commission therefore schedules a hearing to inquire into this on 16th May 2012 at 04.30pm”. Mr Gandhi ordered the presence of Anita Gupta, First Appellate Authority; MC Sharma the then PIO and S Padmanabha present CPIO  and Akash Deep Chakarvarti (deemed PIO & JS(law)
• On 15th May, Shailesh Gandhi received a note from Mr Chakravarti, stating that “the Chief Information Commissioner has decided to refer the case to a full bench consisting of CIC and two information commissioners including Shailesh Gandhi”. So,Mr  Gandhi adjourns the case.
• However, Shailesh Gandhi does not receive any such formal note from the CIC, as stated by Mr Chakravarti. States Mr Gandhi, “On 22nd May, I had a meeting with the Chief Information Commissioner and JS (law), in which I explained to the CIC my view that referring a part heard matter to a full bench by the CIC has never been done and would not be right legally and ethically. The CIC said he would not issue such an order. Hence next day I issued a notice to the first appellate authority to come and assist me in the enquiry with the records on 29th May
• On 28th May, Mr Chakravarti files a writ petition in the Delhi High Court, one of his grouse being that Mr Gandhi was conducting the inquiry behind his back, when a CIC has every right to take ask a FAA or any other officer to help him in an inquiry. Mr Chakravarti has maligned Mr Gandhi’s character in the writ petition accusing him of misusing his powers.

The matter will now come up for hearing sometime in November. Mr Gandhi has already retired and who knows how many months or years will this case keep pending?

Shailesh Gandhi has raised the following issues in his counter-affidavit which he filed last week:
• Was it necessary to grant an ex-parte stay? Since the only order made was for an enquiry to commence which would have taken some time, what was the urgency to grant ex-parte stay? How was the balance of convenience in favour of the petitioner? What substantial loss/irreparable injury could have occurred to the petitioner if the stay had not been granted?
• While granting ex-parte stay and keeping the matter in November the proposed enquiry was stopped for a considerable period of time. By this precedence, any PIO will make a charge of bias and make charges of prejudice against any commissioner. If the court stays the proceedings of the Commission on such charges, the information commission or such other bodies would not be able to function.
• Are the provisions of Article 226 (3) mandatory and binding in that all ex-parte orders will either be confirmed or vacated within two weeks of the making of the application for vacation of stay?
• Should matters be entertained ex-parte where personal allegations are made against statutory authorities? Will such ex-parte orders not give an impression that the High Court was prima facie satisfied that the allegations of malafides were made out? This will result in reducing the respect for statutory bodies resulting in disrespect for their orders.
 • This matter has an importance larger than the specific facts of this case inasmuch as it appears that the Honorable Delhi High Court has made ex-parte stay orders in a considerable number of petitions impugning orders of the Central Information Commission.


After the ex-parte stays are granted the proceedings languish in the high courts, and as a result of the stay, the proceedings before the commission come to a standstill for long periods of time. This frustrates the entire purpose of the RTI Act where, under Section 7 of RTI information is required to be provided by the Public Information Officer within 30 days of the application for information being received. It is therefore in the larger public interest for this Honorable Court to look at the various cases pending in the high court where ex-parte stays have been granted and continue as such without vacation or confirmation for long periods of time.

(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. she can be reached at [email protected])

MK Gupta
9 years ago
The "sensitivity quotient" of our judiciary is so very high (notwithstanding the reported cases of corruption and the recent arrests made in Andhra Pradesh) that it is difficult to venture into a "behavioural analysis" of the judges which, one field, ought to be commissioned by the Law Commission in the background of numereous cases of contempt of court.
But, on the subject under comment, there is no doubt that, any common man or nameless, ordinary member of the public, seeking to file any RTI petition in the police HQ, or the ITO, or the MCD, etc., must do so at the grave risk of the entire family being ruined and possible face a midnight raid and srrest of all and then their disappearance--even in Delhi. Else, some unidentifiable mutilated bodies would be found scattered over the city! Look at the criminal-turned persona of Dehi's, UP's, Haryana's policemen and you will know. Let me relate an incident here for the consumption of the general public
A few years ago, a few IAS-aspirant young boys (including two MUSLIMS) went to Calcutta and felt impelled to just to see the abode of the then cricket-idol of India under Z-category security cover. They did not know that, the said security upgradation had been imposed from the midnight of the same day (due, as usual for publicity and popularity, to :motivated" threats). These youngmen had no worries and were keen to have a glimpse of their idol and hence approached the palace and one of the Muslim boys even took the grave risk of peeping into the gate, without being aware of the fact that the local unemployed people and the household, apart from the camping security, were watching the "foreign" elements posing a threat to the idol. Orders were issued fro inside and the locals surrounded the hapless and non-nonplussed nothern boys and the security jumped on them and started beating them, without even trying to listen to them. They were thrashed, as is the Calcutta tradition, to the heart's content of the locals for "threatening" the life of the only icon of Bengal (mind you, this was CPM rule and the peeping Tom was a Muslim, hance must be a Pak agent!) and handed over to the local PS who, after duly being paid a huge sum for not registering a case, released them after 50 hours! There was pressure from the top, no doubt, but the Hd Constable said, it is he who could arrest them on bogus charges and lodge them in the lock up for days! Later RTI applications were never acknowledged by the top officers and the HC was richly rewarded!

RTI Act is clearly a tool in the hands of some mileage-seeking and dishonest "civil society" activists and lawyers. The common people have never been and shall never be benefited by this "high profile" handle in the hands of a dubious entity called the "civil society", as if the rest of this huge country and its people are "uncivil"!
A retired IRS officer, who handled in his long career, numerous cases of top lawyers with enormous clout and (un)accounted wealth and daily (black) fees charged in cash and with impunity, told me that, many of these are the leading lights of India's "civil society" No wonder. What is sad is that the only job of these is to target the UPA govt. and Sonia Gandhi or P Chidambaram, to deflect any possible investigation into the source of their wealth and their nefarious dealings in cash avoiding cheques. And, of course, they alo have an eye on the Lokpal/Lokayukta chairs, whenever the jinxed bill is passed, if at all. But, one thing is certain to the low-profile, cash-starved and genuine NGOs (who are not synonymous with the urban extensions of the govt. departments, having been started mostly by bureaucrats/their kin or industry houses)--who are denied all tax benefits and FCRS benefits for failure to pay bribes--that, in the muffassils of mega cities and the remotest corners (invariably without healthcare facilities, (functioning) govt schhols, roads, electricity, drinking water or the minimum presence of any semblence of govt. except regular police tortures), there is no light of the RTI and, if at all anyone takes up the courage to send an application under this Central Act, he/she shall be "missing".

It id futile to keep shouting against the UPA and its leaders. Let us see the character of the corrupt bureaucracy to curb whose unfettered extra-territorial and illegal tortures only the legislation was purportedly enacted. As that is not possible in the given milieu, there is no reason why the RTI Act should also not remain an academic issue fashionable enough for the upper-class research-scholars!
T D Sharma
Replied to MK Gupta comment 9 years ago
Very amazing and shocking to learn all this blood-curdling news, and happening in Bengal! How much must our millions of villagers must be existing, left to fend for themselves and totally at the mercy of the lower level and corrupt govt. officials!
Dr V S Prasana Rajan
9 years ago
With regard to the stays granted by the High Court, the Supreme Court in a recent judgement has clearly spelt out the guidelines to be followed by the courts before issuing the stay. The supreme court mandated that before issuing stay, the opposite party should be given a prior notice, and should be heard before deciding the issue of stay. Further details are provided in detail in my report available at "http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/96005-impo...#post236091"
9 years ago
In my opinion, this is not permissible as the PIOs do come within the jurisdiction of the CIC within the scope of the RTI Act and while acting under the said Act. PIOs cannot be the aggrieved parties and there cannot be any adversarial relationship and conflict of between the PIOs and the CIC, within the meaning and scope of the RTI Act. If at all, the affected or aggrieved party would be the head of the organisation or the officer refusing to furnish information and NOT the PIO acting as such.
9 years ago
Courts have turned cohorts of corrupt criminals who if powerful r never found guilty and if inevitable adjournments granted endlessly Criminal Lawyers as Cabinet Ministers have only strengthened this TIEUP
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