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Jharkhand High Court Upholds ₹60K Fine Imposed On State Govt For Providing Late Info Under RTI Act

Rashmi Bagri
10 Feb 2022 1:48 PM GMT
Jharkhand High Court Upholds ₹60K Fine Imposed On State Govt For Providing Late Info Under RTI Act
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While elucidating the distinction between Public Information Officer and Public Authority, Jharkhand High Court has upheld the fine of INR 60,000 imposed by the State Information Commissioner on the concerned department of the State government for not providing the information in time. Stating that the Public Information Officer has to obtain the required information from the custody of...

While elucidating the distinction between Public Information Officer and Public Authority, Jharkhand High Court has upheld the fine of INR 60,000 imposed by the State Information Commissioner on the concerned department of the State government for not providing the information in time.

Stating that the Public Information Officer has to obtain the required information from the custody of the Public Authority (which is the state government here) and only then it is supplied further to the concerned information seeker, Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad has held that it is the Public Authority that has the obligation to main all records, as per Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005, it has to pay the penalty for providing that information late.

A writ petition was filed by the State of Jharkhand through the Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, assailing an order passed in 2010 by the State Information Commissioner, that had imposed a penalty of INR 60,000 on the State as well as the Public Information Officer, to be paid to the complainant, for not providing information to the complainant on time, under S.19(8)(b) of the RTI Act, 2005.

The ground taken by the State Government for assailing the said order was that under Sections 6 & 7 of RTI Act, 2005, this order of penalty can only be passed on Public Information Officer who had erred in not supplying information on time and not on the Public Authority as per the mandate of RTI Act, 2005.

The Counsel representing the State Information Commission submitted that no error had been made in imposing the penalty upon the concerned department of the State government because Section 19 of the 2005 Act refers to Public Authority. Further pointing to Section19(8)(b) of the Act, 2005, the Counsel stated that the section explicitly states that the compensation is to be imposed on the Public Authority.

The Court while looking at the objective of the Right to Information Act, 2005 clarified that it was set up to secure citizens' access to information which ordinarily lies under the control of Public Authorities, to promote transparency and accountability and the purpose of constitution Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions is to fulfil that objective.

Referring to the definitions of Public Authority under S.2(h) and Public Information Officer under S. 2(m), S.4, S.5, S.6, S.7 and S.19 of the RTI Act, 2005, the Court iterated that it is clear from a plain reading of S.19(8)(b) that to compensate any loss or detriment suffered by the complainant in lieu of late information submitted by Public Information Officer, the first duty has been cast on Public Authority to compensate for such loss, by imposing any of the penalties provided under the Act, 2005.

Court further elaborated that the object of the Act, 2005 is to cast an obligation upon the Public Authority (authority constituted either under the Constitution or any enforcement of the law by Parliament or State legislature or anybody owned or financially aided by the State government) and the clear distinction between Public Authority and Public Information Officer becomes sharper on reading S.19(8)(b) and S.20 in conjunction which "provide the consequence in case of non-supply or inadequate supply of information as has been sought by the Information Commission, therefore, the Act provides the provision of compensation as also penalty."

Thus, elaborating that the Act, 2005 imposes a duty on Public Authority to keep the documents in safe custody and if the documents are not found when needed then the compensation has to be paid by the Public Authority because it is the custodian of such documents.

Further stating that the Public Information Officer is not devoid of responsibility, the Court explained that the Act, 2005 creates accountability pertaining to the work of Public Information Officer to provide the information sought and if there is any negligence in the discharge of said duty, there is a provision of penalty as well as for a departmental proceeding against such officer under S.20(2).

Hence, the Court declared that the order passed by State Information Commission did not suffer from any illegality and the writ petition was thus, dismissed.

Case: W.P. (C) No. 5519 of 2013

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Jha) 12

Coram: Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad

Counsel for petitioners: Mr. Dhiraj Kumar, Advocate

Counsel for Respondents: Mr. Sanjoy Piprawal, Advocate and Mr. Samavesh Bhank Deo, Advocate

Click Here To Read/Download Order


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