Is PM CARES Fund a Public Authority?
Despite the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) existing through the past 70 years and operational, and that out of the Rs783 crore, only Rs212 crore have been spent as of 2019, prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi last week announced the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund’ (PM CARES Fund).
 
Little is known about the constitution of the PM CARES Fund except that donations have been pouring in, ever since its launch. It should be a public authority since the money is aimed at financing measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic and therefore, must come under Section 4 disclosures of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. However, there is no separate website for the PM CARES Fund, nor has it been included in the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund website https://pmnrf.gov.in/en/.  
 
The home page of the Prime Minister of India’s website https://www.pmindia.gov.in/ describes the objective of the PM CARES Fund as follows:  “Keeping in mind the need for having a dedicated national fund with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like the one posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected, a public charitable trust under the name of PM CARES Fund  has been set up.’’ 
 
It also states that the Prime Minister is the Chairman of this trust and its members include the defence minister, the home minister and the finance minister. 
 
“In the first place, what is the need of another public fund trust,” asks former central information commissioner (CIC) and RTI activist, Shailesh Gandhi, “when the PM Relief fund is operational and money to the tune of Rs500 odd crore is already available for dispersing at the moment? Considering thousands of crores of rupees would be donated to the PM CARES Fund, we, the public, have been totally kept in the dark as to what kind of a trust it is. What is the document submitted to the charity commissioner, if at all it is submitted? If Prime Minister Modi is the chairman of the trust, will he remain so, even after he ceases to be the PM? How does one figure out if it is a public authority?’’
 
According to a tweet by Prime Minister Modi, this fund was created as a result of many people wanting to contribute to the cause. He tweeted: “People from all walks of life expressed their desire to donate to India’s war against COVID-19.  Respecting that spirit, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund has been constituted. This will go a long way in creating a healthier India.’’
 
As for the objective of the Prime Minister National Relief Fund, it states: “The resources of the PMNRF are now utilized primarily to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes, etc. and to the victims of major accidents and riots. Assistance from PMNRF is also rendered to partially defray the expenses for medical treatment like heart surgeries, kidney transplantation, cancer treatment and acid attack etc.’’ Obviously, the coronavirus epidemic is new to Planet Earth so it could perhaps fall under  'natural calamities'.
 
The PMI website states “PM Narendra Modi has always believed and shown in actions that public participation is the most effective way to mitigate any issue and this is yet another example. This fund will enable micro-donations as a result of which a large number of people will be able to contribute with the smallest of denominations.” The fact that the fund will primarily consist of micro-donations from lakhs and lakhs of people, transparency under the RTI Act is imperative. A good example is of the AAP political party which uploads every donation on its website on a regular basis. However, Gandhi says,  “AAP did it voluntarily; it was not mandatory but unless and until we understand the nature of the PM CARES Fund it is difficult to know whether it is a public authority or not under RTI and that is indeed worrisome.’’
 
Shailesh Gandhi was at the forefront of the RTI campaign to bring the PM Relief Fund and CM Relief Fund under the RTI Act. In 2008, the CIC had ordered that PM and CM Relief funds have to be placed under RTI. However, the PMI Relief Fund website shows you a mere graph of funds collected and spent, with no details at all. So much for the people to show their trust in such funds, though Mr Modi this time is sure to garner a large amount. Otherwise, even during floods or other natural calamities, people are looking out for credible NGOs to give their donations.
 
(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

    pranay.surakanti

    4 months ago

    Dear Vinita,

    I appreciate the work your doing in other facets of life. However, the article is a bit premature. I believe the popularly elected Government of India is within it's right to create specific funds for specific purposes. Apart from that, the modalities of creating the fund/ using an existing fund are discussions for a later stage. The real question is asking how the funds are being utilised and whether it is being spent within the timeframe of this pandemic and whether it is crowding out other fund raising initiatives by individuals and NGOs which are doing the work on the ground. Why don't you start a campaign to get the govt to disclose the utilisation towards Covid-19 relief?

    raviforjustice

    4 months ago

    I have no doubts that questions should be asked whenever they occur. Subasya seegram is the time honored mandate.

    I am continuing to ask questions, oops, seeking information through RTI (because there are public authorities who claim that you cannot ask questions under the RTI Act!) in spite of knowing that the information commissioners, including the RTI flag bearer of ML- Shailesh Gandhi-have murdered the law that they are tasked, empowered, equipped and paid to enforce. And the Mission Statement of my Save RTI Campaign is :

    SAVE RIGHT TO INFORMATION. USE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.
    GET INFORMATION OR......
    EXPOSE AT LEAST THREE IDIOTS/TRAITORS* AMONG PUBLIC SERVANTS!
    1. THE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER
    2. THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY (AND THE HEAD OF PUBLIC AUTHORITY WHERE THE HEAD OF THE PUBLIC AUTHORITY IS NOT THE FAA!) AND
    3. THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER

    * An idiot is one who does not know the job s/he is getting paid to do and a traitor is one who knows it but does not do it. Provided that even an idiot can be branded a traitor based on the consequences of his/her action

    Just to highlight how shamelessly the public servants subvert the only pro-democracy and citizen-friendly law of this law let me narrate two of my latest experiences.

    On 30 Sep 2019 I had submitted a complaint to the Chief Secretary to the Govt of Kerala about a Principal Secretary to the Govt of Kerala issuing a circular that public authorities must issue receipts to the public WITHIN ONE WEEK of their submitting any documents to them. The grossness of the treachery is that he had quoted two earlier circulars that mandated issue of such receipts immediately and they had also included a format of the receipt and a board on which this information, including the format of the receipt, had to be displayed for the knowledge of the public.

    On seeking information under the RTI Act on action taken on the complaint I have been informed on 21/12/2019-that is almost 3 months of the complaint- that information had been sought from the District Collectors.

    Similarly, on 25 Sep 2019, I had complained to the Chief Secretary that the PIOs were not complying with the directions contained in DoPT OM 10/1/2013-IR dated 6 Oct 2015 on the format of replies and the information commissioners are not taking cognizance of this lapse even when explicitly brought out in the 2nd appeal.

    Again, against an application under the RTI Act the 1st appellate authority, an Additional Secretary to the Govt of Kerala, had responded that the complaint had been forwarded to the information commission on 15/02/2020- just about 5 months after the complaint. Or more precisely almost 3 months after receipt of the application under the RTI Act and one month after receipt of the 1st appeal.

    This third case should be an award winning response for stupidity (or, should I call it treachery?)

    In the same complaint of 25 Sep 2019, I had also included that the RTI Act permits one to submit applications in English, Hindi and the local official language. Hence the replies to such application have also got to be in the same language as that of the application. The same Additional Secretary wrote to say that the RTI Act does not mention that the reply has also got to be in the same language.

    RJ

    4 months ago

    Why a separate fund? Well, the answer is obvious. Unlike the PMNRF, money from this fund is meant to be used, exclusively, to COVID-19 related relief. In all possibility, the constitution of PMNRF hinders some modalities and channels of relief that PM Modi wishes to utilise for the benefit of COVID-19 victims.

    As for whether the new fund is Public Authority, I trust MoneyLife have sought an answer via the RTI route and would share it with us when they get it.

    That said, to my mind, raising this issue now, right in the midst of the Corona War, shows poor taste and a a shocking absence of a sense of proportion.

    Can one fairly expect the PM and his band of close aides to be immersing themselves, at this time, into all the legal documentation required just to dispel suspicion of some self-appointed guardians of probity in public life?

    Maybe the sense of power that the RTI activists and the like enjoy when they question the highest in the land is so addictive that the particular members of that ilk, who have raised this question, just could not defer it to a more appropriate time. They had to have their shot and pronto.

    Be that as it may, folks. Rest assured that PM Modi will answer this question. And his answer will leave no room for any doubt about the propriety of this fund.

    REPLY

    rockdstone1999

    In Reply to RJ 4 months ago

    Oooopsss. Don't u know now u can't take all information through RTI as PM Modi ji don't like asking questions. He works by taking loans.. Gujrat developed through Loan and Indian Government took huge loans after becoming Modi PM. Even he took loan for sawach baharat scheme. All funds/donations should be convered under RTI act.

    RJ

    In Reply to rockdstone1999 4 months ago

    RTI Act does not work at the whims and fancies of the PM. And there are courts of law if a PM tries to hoodwink it. Besides, to my mind, good magazines/journalists should boldly and diligently seek answers through RTI and not tell themselves tales of its ineffectiveness against PM Modi -related matters and instead, let their imagination run riot and raise bogies.

    Your point about Modi running his show on loans is lost on me. Are you suggesting that PMCares fund is a loan of sorts?

    As for your suggestion that all funds and the like should come under the RTI Act , I agree with you 100%. Other than matters within the preview of intelligence services and those relating to the national security, everything should come under the RTI Act.

    RJ

    In Reply to RJ 4 months ago

    Further to my earlier post, I'd like to call Money Life's and their readers attention to the article at this link, which elucidates the whole matter, thanks to its author's due diligence : https://www.opindia.com/2020/04/pmnrf-managing-committee-congress-president-all-you-need-to-know/

    p

    In Reply to RJ 4 months ago

    OpIndia is a RW propaganda mouthpiece. Only cite journalistic stories here. OpIndia articles have been consistently exposed by fact-checkers and its not something worth legitimizing by reading. If you have a logical argument, make it.

    RJ

    In Reply to p 4 months ago

    Fake news put out by what you call 'fact-checkers' has been exposed several times, including on National TV. So no point going there. Instead, getting down to brass tacks - and logically - would, in my view, more pertinent. So here goes..

    One, can you point to a single falsehood in the Op India article in question, including the excerpts from other sources that it has quoted?

    Two, since the MoneLife article juxtaposed the two relief funds, wasn't it the author's journalistic duty to compare the two in toto, and not just mention an odd point of comparison?

    Three, shouldn't the facts that in 1985 the then Congress PM did away with the 'management committee' of the PMNRF and arrogated to himself the power to utilise the fund at HIS SOLE discretion and that until then the President of Congress was a member of the management committee have been mentioned in the MoneLife article? Particularly since it raised the question : Why a new fund? The answer that the PM possibly wanted the new fund to be more democratic would have occurred to the readers.

    So whether Op India is generally credible or not, or whether I should legitimise it by quoting it or not is not the point, those are diversionary matters. Whether what Op India article in question said in this particular case was one, factually correct and two, exhaustive, or not is the point. I tick both these boxes.

    vinitapune

    In Reply to RJ 4 months ago

    If you are happy donating your hard-earned money blindly go ahead. You should not have even taken pains to post a reply. If money is being asked from the public, there should be transparency and it doesn't take donkey's years to put up the objectives, the donations etc on the website. BJP has a stellar IT cell for that. And technology is not a bullock cart. It is complacent Indians like you who give a long hand to the government to do what it wants. I, as a journalist, will continue to ask questions for the large public good. If you are happy with the article, the link of which you have posted, good luck to you. At least don't criticise the genuine work being done by this authentic news magazine which is playing a stellar role in keeping truthful and courageous journalism, alive!

    RJ

    In Reply to vinitapune 4 months ago

    Whether I am happy donating my hard or soft earned money to PMCares fund, or you are not happy doing so is hardly the point. We are talking of matters of public interest. The moment you degrade the discussion to personal level, it is end of a meaningful conversation. So I end it here.

    In passing, though, just an observation. Magazines and journalists have to earn their reputation again and again. They can't rest on their past laurels. Inability to view self-critically all the criticism hurled at them is their professional death knell.

    satishvarma2006

    In Reply to vinitapune 4 months ago

    The questions asked are very relevant and issues like CSR inclusion ( not available to Chief Minister's Relief Funds) need to be answered. More importantly, not being under the purview of the RTI renders it opaque like the Electoral Bonds.

    nikunj.dadhania

    4 months ago

    Care to read this document as well - https://pmnrf.gov.in/assets/uploads/downloads/pibpressnotice_20190409131842.pdf

    "To begin with, this Fund will be managed by a committee consisting of
    The Prime Minister
    The President of Indian National Congress
    ..."

    Yes, it is not the "The President of India" but "The President of INC"

    REPLY

    p

    In Reply to nikunj.dadhania 4 months ago

    Congress president is not part of the PM CARES fund. Her article is on PMCARES fund and you cite PMNRF link. Dont spread misinformation.

    nikunj.dadhania

    In Reply to p 4 months ago

    Author does mention about PMNRF in her article and compares it with PMCARES fund. Please read the article again.
    I am qouting documents from a government site, there is no misinformation, while giving reply please study.

    dkrao61

    4 months ago

    I agree with author- why not have transparency. It's for a good cause, let's keep it independent of govt - like CEC.

    REPLY

    vinitapune

    In Reply to dkrao61 4 months ago

    Thanks

    Ramesh Popat

    4 months ago

    pl. donot have any doubts pl. in the matter.

    aksdubai

    4 months ago

    after subscribing to your magazine, it is very clear that your articles are majorly the anti-establishment type in the garb of journalistic investigation. i'd rather read 'News' and not your 'Views'. The COVID is a disaster event and GOI is doing all it can with limited resources. Given them the benefit of time to set things up and meanwhile ask questions objectively or maybe suggest objectively.

    REPLY

    vinitapune

    In Reply to aksdubai 4 months ago

    You can keep giving the government benefit of time, I, as a journalist will never give it the benefit of doubt. Truth is bitter and you can swallow it and appreciate it only if you are objective.

    aksdubai

    In Reply to vinitapune 4 months ago

    ok..so if i understand your Views are the Truth? Has this authentic magazine done an RTI query to the GOI for this fund already?

    anurgarg

    In Reply to aksdubai 4 months ago

    When did asking question become anti-establishment? You must have come to Moneylife when they were asking question to UPA. Now when your masters are being asked question, you are feeling the heat.
    If establishment is not getting asked question, who will respond? Opposition?
    So we need to ask question to INC .. where will PMCares spend money? That will sound bit ridiculous. Don't you think?

    aksdubai

    In Reply to anurgarg 4 months ago

    thats very presumptuous of you to claim knowing my "masters"? And why not the Opposition asking question on this Fund so far?

    RJ

    In Reply to anurgarg 4 months ago

    Journalists must ask questions and, of course, they needn't trust anyone, high or low, of whatever political party or whichever power elite.

    Equally, readers must ask questions of journalists and magazines, including about their motives, however well-reputed they may be. Even more so, when reputed journalists and magazines write/publish articles without due research, diligence and application of mind.

    A comparison of the article in question with the one on the same subject that appeared in Op India would be instructive in this regard to those who seek instruction. And those who want to get a full and well-rounded treatment of the subject would do well to read that article too.





    bhatiahv

    In Reply to aksdubai 4 months ago

    It's not her fault, if you notice that's the policy of Moneylife nowadays :(

    kpushkar

    4 months ago

    C mon we need some maturity in reporting ..
    stop this kind of opposition for the sake of it.. Lutyns media should be first to object.,
    Anyway all of award wapasi gang , jnu types is very silent , rather un-surprising

    REPLY

    vinitapune

    In Reply to kpushkar 4 months ago

    It's not good to be a blind follower of any government. You should not be a blind fan; you should be its trailing light. Watch each of its movement - after all, people have elected the govt. Then only every voter will be given self-respect by the Netas. Now they take people for granted.

    ASHWIN MEHTA

    4 months ago

    Looks purely technical issues. We should give time to Prime Minister in such situation. Hardly anybody doubts his intention in such matters. One need to show restrain before publishing such article, I feel.

    REPLY

    vinitapune

    In Reply to ASHWIN MEHTA 4 months ago

    You are most welcome to give the PM, the benefit of the doubt. Why stop me? It's a democracy and I don't need your advice.

    jagdishkg

    4 months ago

    The PM cares fund has been notified under Clause 4 of the THE TAXATION AND OTHER LAWS (RELAXATION OF CERTAIN PROVISIONS) ORDINANCE, 2020. Thus it is a Fund in addition to the PM Relief Fund. Further modalities shall follow. Why the hurry in writing this article?


    REPLY

    Meenal Mamdani

    In Reply to jagdishkg 4 months ago

    I am glad that we know at the outset what are the measures included in the set up of the fund to assure transparency.
    Otherwise in the absence of such information, people may say that all these questions are being asked too late and these should have been raised at the start.
    But it looks like some people are very sensitive and look at pertinent questions as unfavorable criticism.

    Right to information in the time of Corona virus pandemic!
    So, what’s the major concern of citizens today, against the backdrop of a national lockdown where the entire country of 1.3 billion has been asked to stay indoors for three weeks, to counter the spread of the Corona virus? Obviously, information! News, views and videos through television media, social media and e-newspapers are aplenty, with a seasoning of fake news thrown in. But what about the duty of public authorities, which come under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and are bound by suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act? This section ensures that authentic information, in real time, is available to citizens everyday as the remain locked in their homes with the hashtag #stayhomestaysafe  going viral. 
     
    We are talking about public authorities that are directly connected with the present emergency, such as police departments, the collectorates, the divisional commisisonerates, the municipal corporations, the public health departments and so on. At the local and district level, these are important centres of information for people. The onus of disseminating accurate information lies on them. 
     
    So, what kind of information does a citizen look for as she lives life within the four walls of her house? 
     
    Let’s take Pune as an example of what every town, city or state is undergoing. The Pune Municipal Corporation announced reduction in PMPML public transport buses to 1000. While this is fine, people are unclear about which routes they are plying on, what time and at what intervals. How was the choice of bus routes decided? 
     
    It is mandatory under Section 4 of the RTI Act for the http://pmc.gov.in and www.pmpml.org websites to upload this basic information so at the click of the mouse the user can find out whether he or she can get this facility near her home and for the destination she or he wants to go? 
     
    Remember, the buses are mainly for those who are part of the essential services, such as banks, government employees, media, municipal workers and police personnel who are exempted from the lockdown. In Mumbai, they are let into the buses only on showing their  identity cards. With other means of transport locked down, information about routes and schedules becomes crucial when the frequency has been drastically cut. 
     
    However, no such information has been put up in the public domain.  RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar has written about this to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. He says, “Presently the buses which have been allowed to ply are stationed at various depots and it benefits no one. Instead, they should be strategically stationed at public hospitals, water supply centres, and at dedicated bus stops conveniently for the conservancy staff of the city. This would make this service more useful and relevant. The two websites should put that up on the home page with graphics, listing and helpline numbers.’’ 
     
    This is indeed true! Often, government officials such as the Pune Collector disseminate  urgent government circulars relating to various rules and regulations applicable to citizens in the time of coronavirus through social media such Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. While this is good, it is just as important to upload them on official websites. 
     
    Pune collector Naval Kishore Ram’s appeal to the public to stay safe at homes is doing the rounds of social media, Pune collectorate’s website (www.pune.nic.in ) has no such circulars or decisions uploaded in real time.  I understand that only helpline numbers have been put up. 
     
    In fact, activist Vijay Kumbhar tells me, when you go to http://pune.nic.in you are redirected to http://pune.gov.in where you can see the helpline numbers. It is the same with the Pune divisional commisisonerate’s website http://divvcommpune.in.  
     
    There is no information on the life-threatening pandemic on any of these official websites. Social media surely cannot be a substitute for official websites – it can only be a means of fast dissemination of information.  
     
    Let’s look at the Pune Police website, http://punepolice.in. The Pune Police, like their counterparts all over the country have occasionally used their baton even on persons stepping out for exempted work. 
     
    But then, Pune has had cases of people with a mandatory self-quarantine stamp stepping out and endangering others. They have had to be reprimanded. Sometimes the cops have had to take action against housing society office bearers  for ill-treating those who under self-quarantine in their homes. All this is positive and necessary.  
     
    The Pune Police has also come up with an effective form to apply for permission to step out.  All you have to do is send WhatsApp on four specific mobile numbers circulated by the Pune Police through WhatsApp. They ensure a prompt reply to the WhatsApp request. But again, why is this e-form is not available on the Pune Police website. Shouldn’t it be available on the official website too?
     
    It would also be helpful to citizens of the police website (http://punepolice.in) on the number of people who have been quarantined; action taken against those who defied quarantine; number of permissions granted for citizens to come out of their homes and helpline numbers. This is especially important for senior citizens who are a significant portion of Pune’s population and may need help during medical or social emergencies. Many of them live by themselves as their children are abroad. 
     
    But sorry, the latest press release on the Pune Police website is about an accident in which a senior citizen woman was injured due to a reckless two-wheeler rider. But all means upload such news, but not at the expense of ignoring important information during a pandemic required by citizens confined at home. After all, not everybody is on social media, but they do look for official websites.
     
    This disdain or lack of understanding about disclosure of information and transparency, I presume is endemic. Informing people  about decisions and regulations relating to the coronavirus pandemic are mandatory under Section 4 of the RTI Act and under Section 7of the RTI Act and the RTI applicant can file an RTI application and has the right to get it within 48 hours. 
     
    Government departments are also working with skeletal staff, but if private companies have been exhorted to work from home and complete official filings online during the lockdown, surely the relevant public information officers could be asked to upload all relevant information on official websites on a daily basis. 
     
    Surely this would not require a new directive by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) or the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) to be implemented?
     
    (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

    yespipataskar

    4 months ago

    Even prior to Carona,in normal days the RTI Act has been counting its last days. Very few officials know what is 4(1)(b) or Sue motto disclosure. Number of offices are having old Information under this section.
    Now Corona virus has become a great reason for lame excuses.Like Courts, Information Commissions are not working in this period. Can they be eligible for full salary ?
    One case of Complaints U/s 18 is pending since more than 2 years. When normal functioning of implementation of RTI Act is like this, what will be during LOCK DOWN period, God knows.

    raviforjustice

    4 months ago

    A very relevant issue, no doubt. And this deficiency in service is not restricted to Pune. But I have an equally pertinent doubt: how do we file an application under the RTI Act during the period of lock down? Is going to a public authority to file such an application in the exempted category? Or going to a post office to send it by post? And that brings me another issue: can we delay filing 1st and 2nd appeals till a couple of weeks after the lockdown is lifted?

    The Latest Supreme Court Order Damages Power of the RTI Act. Here Is How
    Earlier this month, the three-judge bench led by Justice R Bhanumathi upheld that the Right to Information (RTI) Act cannot override relevant rules under the Gujarat High Court Rules. Information or certified copies of orders held by a high court (HC) can be given to a third party only as per rules framed by the HC and not under RTI, the Supreme Court (SC) says.
     
    This, in other words, mean that a citizen cannot file RTI seeking to obtain pleadings in the HC that have own rules. 
     
    The RTI Act says that all information should be in public domain and as per Section 2(2) of the Act, the applicant is not required to provide any reason for requesting such information. And that such a stance is not ‘inconsistent’ with the RTI Act, the apex court ruled.
     
    When Moneylife contacted former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, he opined that, “What is obviously ‘inconsistent’ is that the High Court rules compel the information seeker to give reasons, which the RTI Act does not.
     
    "This judgment is a direct assault on citizen’s fundamental right as what the Supreme Court says becomes law. Now, if every public authority were to derive their own rules and insist that information would be given strictly by those in-house rules only, then what happens to the RTI Act? We can write off the RTI Act in the next 10 years for we have been given a system of information under this law but now public authority gets the liberty to nullify it.”
     
    In April 2010, an RTI applicant sought information on two civil application cases from the Gujarat High Court. The public information officer (PIO) of the HC replied that he should make an application through his advocate addressed to the deputy registrar and attach Rs3 court fee stamp. The PIO quoted Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993, which states that the application also needs to be accompanied by an affidavit stating the reasons why the applicant needs the documents, as he is not a party to both the cases. And that he would provided information only as per the Gujarat High Court rules 1993 and not under the RTI Act.
     
    The RTI applicant then filed first appeal with the appellate authority, the registrar of administration of the Gujarat HC. In August 2010, the appeal was dismissed stating that “the alternative efficacious remedy is already available under the Gujarat High Court Rules,1993 for obtaining copies and that under the provisions of RTI Act, no certified copies can be provided.”
     
    The appellant hen filed second appeal with the chief information commissioner of Gujarat, who ordered the PIO of the Gujarat High Court to provide information under RTI (as every citizen has the right to procure information in any lawful way he wishes too).
     
    The PIO stood by his grounds, which did not convince the state CIC. 
     
    Relying upon Sections 6(2) and 22 of the RTI Act, the state CIC, in his order of April 2013, directed the PIO of Gujarat High Court to provide the information sought by the applicant within 20 days. But the PIO once again stood by his earlier stance.
     
    The appellant then filed a case in the Gujarat High Court against the first appellate authority (FAA)’s order. The latter asked the PIO to provide information within four weeks adding a rider that supply of information by the High Court “shall not be construed as acceptance of applicability of RTI Act to the High Court.”
     
    The PIO appealed to the HC division bench, which set aside the order of the chief information commissioner by observing that when a copy is demanded by any person, it has to be in accordance with the rules of the HC on the subject.
     
    The appellant then approached the SC. The appellant’s senior counsel contended on 4 March 2020, that “In view of the inconsistency between the provisions of the RTI Act and the Gujarat High Court Rules, harmonious construction between the two is not possible; however, Section 22 of the RTI Act specifically provides that the provisions of the RTI Act will have an overriding effect over any other laws for the time being in force.”
     
    The senior counsel also submitted that “the High Court Rules have been framed in exercise of the powers under Article 225 of the Constitution of India, which would be subject to any other law and the non-obstante clause in Section 22 of the RTI Act shows that the provisions of the RTI Act would override the High Court Rules.”
     
    However, in its 4 March 2020 order, the three-judge bench of Justices R Banumathi, AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy pronounced that insisting on providing information as per High Court rules is not inconsistent with the RTI Act.
     
    Since the HC rules for procuring information already exists, the provisions of the RTI Act shall not be resorted to, the bench ruled.
     
    Supreme Court order on 4th March 2020
     
    “We summarise our conclusion:- 
     
    (i) Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules stipulating a third party to have access to the information/obtaining the certified copies of the documents or orders requires to file an application/affidavit stating the reasons for seeking the information, is not inconsistent with the provisions of the RTI Act; but merely lays down a different procedure as the practice or payment of fees, etc. for obtaining information. In the absence of inherent inconsistency between the provisions of the RTI Act and other law, overriding effect of RTI Act would not apply.
     
    (ii) The information to be accessed/certified copies on the judicial side to be obtained through the mechanism provided under the High Court Rules, the provisions of the RTI Act shall not be resorted to.”
     
     
    (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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