Bombay HC rejects Maharashtra’s appeal against paying Rs1 lakh as cost to RTI activist
The Bombay High Court had rejected a plea by Maharashtra government to review an order passed by the Court asking the State to pay costs of Rs1 lakh to a petitioner.
The Bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Anil Menon, in an order said, “This person has helped unearth a scam, a problem within your system and has helped you save on a lot of money. But the State feels paying him is burdensome. The application is rejected.”
In November last year, the HC had asked the State government to pay Rs1 lakh to Pune-based Shrikant Karve as cost incurred to obtain vital documents related with the case and appearing in person several times for the hearing. “The orders and the documents placed on record will show that repeatedly he (Karve) took recourse to the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 and obtained vital information. Only because of his efforts that fraud played by one officer at Pune could be detected. Considering the nature of prayers made in the Petition, the nature of the directions sought and nature of directions issued, the petitioner has absolutely no personal interest. He has attended the Court on several occasions after disposal of public interest litigation (PIL) though he is a resident of Pune.
Considering the role played by the petitioner, as a condition precedent for allowing Civil Application (St) No.30305 of 2017, we direct the State Government to pay costs quantified at Rs1 lakh to the petitioner appearing in person. The amount shall be paid within a period of one month from today. We are issuing this direction as the petitioner must have incurred huge expenditure on travelling and on applying for information under the RTI Act,” the HC Bench had said in its order on 17 November 2017.
However, the State government decided to appeal against the direction of paying Rs1 lakh as cost to Mr Karve. The application filed by the government through Additional Transport Commissioner, contended that paying such a cost would put a burden on the exchequer.
Abhinandan Vagyani, Counsel for the State government informed the Court that during a meeting chaired by Diwakar Raote, Minister for State Transport, it was decided to file an appeal urging the Court for review of its order. “Mr Karve had filed number of petitions and during earlier orders, the state government paid costs to him. Ultimately, this is public money when payment is made through the exchequer and when cost has been paid earlier there is no need to pay the cost again," Adv Vagyani contended.
The Bench, however, rejected the application and directed the State government to pay Rs1 lakh as cost to Mr Karve.
In its earlier order too, the HC had asked the State government not to treat this PIL as an adversarial litigation and to take prompt action. It had stated, “…considering the aspect of road safety and safety of citizens, the mandatory provisions which are incorporated in the statutory Rules for testing of vehicles for issuing fitness certificates are scrupulously followed. There is no reason for the State to take this litigation as an adversarial litigation. In fact, the final directives issued in the judgment show that there are various directions issued to ensure that various kinds of facilities including providing additional staff is made available to the Transport Offices in the State. Even the directions issued to the Union of India are to ensure smooth functioning of the Transport Department of the State. We hope and trust that as the complete failure of the State machinery to abide by the directions issued by this Court has been brought to the notice of the Minister, now the State will not treat this litigation as an adversarial litigation and will take prompt steps.”
Mr Karve, a business from Pune had filed a PIL in 2013 in the Bombay HC over malpractices taking place in Regional Transport Office (RTO) during issuance of fitness certificate for vehicles. With documents obtained under RTI, Mr Karve revealed how one RTO officer Dilip Mane, claimed to have checked 200 vehicles in a single day, an impossible task for a single vehicle inspector. Out of these 200 vehicles, cleared by Mane in one day, 74 were public transport vehicles. Mr Mane was later suspended following an enquiry by the Transport Department.