Is Hockey India Fearing Exposure Of Some Scandal? CIC Show Cause Notice To HI’s Ex-President Rajinder Gill [Read Order]

Is Hockey India Fearing Exposure Of Some Scandal? CIC Show Cause Notice To HI’s Ex-President Rajinder Gill [Read Order]

Stressing that sport of hockey cannot be used as base for commercial profit generating by Hockey India (HI) and Hockey India League (HIL), the Central Information Commission has issued show cause notice to Hockey India’s former president Rajinder Singh asking him why maximum penalty should not be imposed against him and HI’s CPIO and the first appellate authority for not disclosing details of its sponsors, commission paid on sponsorship and fee paid to lawyers.

CIC M Sridhar Acharyulu held Rajinder Singh responsible for non-compliance of the commission’s order in the matter and obstructing its statutory function by submitting photocopies of relevant documents with important details painted black despite the undertaking of HI’s counsel to submit the original documents in a sealed cover.

The CIC said, “In ordinary course, the Commission has to direct the CPIO Ranjit Gill to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed against him. But Hockey India being such a rich and huge powerful public authority, it is not possible for these small offices to act independently” and went on to “hold Rajinder Singh (who is now Secretary-General) of the Hockey India responsible for this act of non-compliance and directs them to show-cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed against them”.

The CIC was hearing second appeal moved by BJP leader Kirti Azad who had filed an RTI application in the year 2015 seeking details about HIL certificate of registration, sponsorship amount received by HIL in the last 2 years, amount of commission paid for getting sponsorships, details of total expenditure incurred by HI and HIL in the past 2 years, besides the expenditure incurred on consultancy and legal expenses with name of each consultants and lawyers engaged by HI and HIL in the last 2 years.

He also sought to know about the expenditure incurred on TA/DA of board members in the last 2 years and the names of permanent/life members of HI and HIL.

The CPIO directed Azad to the website of HI saying the information sought is already in public domain while maintaining throughout that HIL is organized under the aegis of the Hockey India and is not a separate body per se.

Dissatisfied, he moved the first appeal to which the appellate authority reiterated commercial confidence as a bar on disclosure of commission paid to get sponsorship and fee paid to lawyers etc. It also maintained that the list of sponsors is already on the website.

Azad then moved the CIC which directed respondent to disclose the information sought.

HI then moved the Delhi High Court which remanded the matter back to the CIC for fresh consideration.

Before the commission, HI’s counsel Shyel Trehan argued that the information about sponsors, commission paid etc., could not be given to secure the interest mentioned in Section 8(1)(d), (e) and (j) of the RTI Act.

She also argued that there was no public interest but a private interest behind RTI application to target a senior cabinet minister and other HI office-bearers.

On HI questioning Azad’s motive behind the RTI application, the CIC held, “It is the burden of the CPIO or Public Authority under Section 19(5) of RTI Act to prove or justify the invocation of any exception to deny the information. They also have a duty to disclose, if there is any larger public interest. Motives of applicant behind filing RTI applications with HI are irrelevant. Even the competitor to HI, if any, has aright to information under RTI Act. The CPIO, First Appellate Authority and Information Commissions have to examine whether information sought was hit by any exception, or any proviso to exception permits disclosure, or comparative public interest mentioned in 8(2) allows disclosure and then decide.”

On HI equating HIL with Indian Premier League (IPL) of BCCI to oppose certain disclosures, the CIC noted that BCCI has disclosed the details concerning existing and previous official sponsors along with the amount enlarged.

“The above comparison shows that like IPL, the HIL also should have been transparent. The above claim of learned counsel for respondents binds HIL and HIto be more transparent. Strangely, the BCCI and IPL are fighting tooth and nail either not to come under the purview of Right to Information Act, 2005 or to deny information without justification. The BCCI is disclosing on their own some information, which the HIL is denying though they are not contending that RTI will not apply to them. Thus, even if the contention of learned counsel for respondent that HIL is on par with IPL is accepted, the HIL and HI have to answer the points sought by the appellant,” said the commission.

Sponsorship amount painted black

The commission noted during the hearing that HI was trying to present a picture that HIL is totally not connected with the HI and thus HI cannot be made obligated to disclose information about HIL.

HI’s counsel submitted certain documents in sealed cover which revealed that HIL is entering into contracts on behalf of HI and hence, HIL cannot be separated from HI.

“It is illogical to think, that one intrinsic part of a public authority has no links withthat public authority and hence it can remain as private body within the public authority. Hence, this contention cannot be accepted,” said the commission.

HI also submitted three sealed covers containing the copies of agreements with sponsors but the commission found that the documents were photostat copies of sponsoring agreements wherein the crucial information aboutconsideration amount agreed upon was painted black.

“It means that the Hockey India does not want even the Commission to see the original documents, andcomplete contents of their photostat copies,” it remarked.

Commission not paid or paid

During the hearing, the counsel for HI, noted the commission, was receiving instructions in several bits and pieces from HI, through her colleague as the other side was arguing.

Initially, HI’s counsel said that they had not paid any commissions in securing sponsorships from public sector undertakings. Later, the counsel assisting the arguing counsel for HI approached the commission, on revised instructions from Hockey India and said that they wanted the commission to note that “payments were made to third parties for procuring sponsorship either from private or public sponsors”.

“If that is so, the Hockey India has a duty to explain to whom, how much, why the amount was paid and explain how that benefitted the sports,” Prof Acharyulu said.

The commission also noted the submission of counsel for HI that it is routine, market practice, to pay agents a percentage of sponsorship fee as commission and since it is not paid from public money, it need not be disclosed.

“It’s quite illogical to classify the expenditure by public money and non-public money, and that any expenditure from public money could be disclosed and others cannot. Paying commission could be an unethical practice or might even amount to bribe. If Ld. Counsel’s argument is applied, if bribe is paid by public authority like HI from public money it could be disclosed, but if paid from their private commercial monies, it cannot be. It’s an absurd logic to say the least. HI is generating huge money from monopoly granted by Government of India, paying commission from such pool which cannot be classified as private or public, if it is ethical they should not have any problem in disclosure; and if not ethical, that is why they have to disclose,” it said.

Besides, on HI not disclosing names of lawyers and price paid to them, the CIC said, “If the names and price paid to them should not be considered as top secret, it appears that HI fears exposure of some serious scandal as they might have paid to persons who are not eligible to receive or paid huge amounts more than they deserve. That exactly is the public’s interest. It’s not curiosity, but to allow public scrutiny into the way the HI is paying to some lawyers. If they are not doing anything wrong, they should prove it by allowing people to know it.”

No competition, then why invoke S 8(1)(d)

On HI invoking Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act which exempts from disclosure any information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, the commission was of the view, “To invoke this provision, the Hockey India is expected to show that it was confidential information and it would harm the competitive position of the third party. Assuming that the sponsorship consideration fee is in the nature of commercial confidence, the Hockey India has to prove whether there is any competition and by disclosing the same, what kind of harm will there. The Commission finds that this was not established. Further, the Commission noticedthat the Hockey India has not created any competitive position, as they had approached selectively to the sponsors and bargained with them.”

The CIC also noted that the HI has claimed ‘competition’ for not disclosing information but everywhere it operated through “TCM, HI’s sole marketing representative” without inviting open bids either for sponsorship or for any other ‘trade’, which proves absence of competition and must disclose how it selected TCM as its sole marketing representative.

Instrumentalities like BCCI, HI not sovereign entities

The commission went on to observe, “The people are sovereign in democracy. They delegate sovereignty without losing it to the representatives, who form the government for them. The instrumentality of state like BCCI and Hockey India, are not sovereign entities and are responsible to people or citizens who are really sovereign.”

“The organizations like Hockey India armed with power of monopoly granted by state in hockey amassing huge wealth through game of hockey has duty to report to sovereign citizens like any other public servant in state. They cannot hide things from their masters. The monopoly sanctioned by state to them in hockey is not to make them monarchs building iron forts of secrecy. They have to respect sovereign citizen who is rightly demanding information by giving information, for which the RTI explained modalities,” he said.

Read the Order Here: