The Gujarat High Court on Thursday (10th September) directed the State Information Commissioner to initiate proceedings under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act. against 'the Mamlatdar' since "he acted in a callous manner as a result of which the petitioner had been deprived of from the right of Right to Information".
The Bench of Justice A.Y. Kogje observed,
"The Court is of the view that this is a fit case where the proceedings under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act needs to be initiated in view of non-compliance of the order passed by the State Information Commissioner as well as the casual manner in which the application of the petitioner to seek the right to information under the Right to Information Act has been dealt with." (emphasis supplied)
The background of the matter
The present petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India was filed seeking directions to the respondent authorities to provide information, details and documents demanded by the petitioner in his application dated 19.04.2018 under the Right to Information Act.
The petitioner submitted that though the application was filed in the year 2018 giving specific details about the information and documents required, the Public Information Officer and Mamlatdar, Bhachau had refused to entertain the application merely on the ground that the information, sought for, by the petitioner pertains to the third party, and therefore, it is privilege information under Section 8(1)(d) of the Right to Information Act.
Against such order of Public Information Officer, the petitioner preferred the First Appeal before the appellate authority and the appellate authority did not respond to the appeal within a stipulated time, as a result, the petitioner preferred Second Appeal before the State Information Commissioner.
The State Information Commissioner had allowed the appeal and directed the respondent authorities to furnish the information sought by the petitioner.
In Paragraph – 3 of the order, the State Information Commissioner had also made drastic remarks against the authority for not supplying the required documents.
It was submitted by the Petitioner that after the decision of the State Information Commissioner, the concerned authorities had taken an altogether different stand and stated that now, the information, which is sought for, is not available.
It was the case of the petitioner that the respondent authority i.e. Public Information Officer had taken a contrary stand before the State Information Commissioner by submitting that he had no record to be produced before the State Information Commissioner, as the said record was destroyed and/or was not available.
The only stand, which was taken before the State Information Commissioner was that the information pertains to the third party, could not be provided in view of Section 8(1) (d) of the Right to Information Act.
The AGP drew the attention of this Court to the affidavit in reply to the respondent, wherein, in paragraph no.10, it was categorically stated that on account of the earthquake natural calamity, the area of Bhachau had faced considerable damage even to the government offices and hence, information was not available with the authority.
In the rejoinder, the petitioner submitted that this flip flop by the authorities for not providing the information cannot be accepted right from the beginning till the order passed by the State Information Commissioner.
The only stand taken that the information, sought for, by the petitioner pertains to the third party. Nowhere, the stand was taken that the information, as sought for, by the petitioner was destroyed in earthquake natural calamity.
The Court acknowledged the conflicting stand of the respondent authorities more particularly Public Information Officer, at the relevant time, before the State Information Commissioner that the information, as sought for, by the petitioner pertains to the third party, and therefore, refused to give him.
The Court further remarked,
"As against that stand, now, stand being taken that the record is not available cannot be accepted by the Court. At the first stage when the response was given to the petitioner by the Public Information Officer as well as State Information Commissioner about the information of the third party, and therefore, not provided would be at the presumption that the respondent authorities had the record with them and after perusal of such record have found that the information sought for by the petitioner is missing, and thereafter, change their stand of no record being available. Therefore, the same cannot be accepted by this Court." (emphasis supplied)
In view of the aforesaid, the matter was relegated back to the State Information commissioner to initiate proceedings under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act. The petition stood allowed to the aforesaid extent.
Case Title: Sureshchandra Maneklal Dholakiya v. State Of Gujarat
Case No.: Special Civil Application No. 6941 OF 2020
Quorum: Justice A.Y. Kogje
Appearance: Advocate A. R. Thacker and Advocate Shivang A Thacker (For the Petitioner); G. H. Virk (for Respondent no. 2); AGP Dhawan Jayswal (for the Respondent nos. 1, 2, 3, 4)