(Prof Madabhusi Sridhar)
(The Delhi High Court ordered that the petitioner under RTI Act has to prove the public interest and that the Information Commission has a duty to prevent the abuse of the RTI. Hearing a writ petition challenging the CIC order, Delhi High Court upheld the directions of Central Information Commissioner – that’s the author of this article. – Editor)
In Rajni Mendiratta v PIO, Directorate of Education W.P.(C) No. 7911/2015 High Court said the CIC has a duty to prevent abuse. Though the RTI Act mandates that purpose of RTI need not be disclosed, it is the duty of the petitioner to explain the public purpose if any behind the RTI request, when the CIC found the RTI is being abused.
A lady teacher was removed from the school for alleged anti-discipline activities. CIC stated she has every right to seek justice, if she felt aggrieved. She has already approached the Tribunal and the case is pending adjudication. She filed several RTI requests against the school and its society. She wanted copies of all information given from 2005 to 2014 by Vidya Bharati School about the election of two teacher representatives in the school management committee. The PIO of Directorate of Education has
forwarded the reply received from the school management. Around twenty petitions were filed seeking voluminous information. The school management was totally engaged with the work generated by her questions.
The PIO explained how the teacher was building pressure through RTI applications to harass the authorities. Around 15 RTI petitions were filed and at least 3 second appeals are pending in CIC. Officers from School and Education department explained that teacher was removed for proven anti-school activities and ever since they were facing harassing demands for information, which does not serve any purpose except to harass them with torture of compiling the useless data. CIC has rejected second appeal with admonition. Teacher challenged before Delhi High Court, the order directing Public Authority to prepare a note on the number of RTI applications made by the petitioner and to put them up on its official website along with a copy of CIC order.
CIC reasoned as follows:
(i) as per the record, the petitioner had filed number of RTI applications ever since she was removed from the Vidya Bharti School, Rohini, Delhi, a private unaided school on proven anti-school activities;
(ii) CIC itself had adjudicated about 20 appeals filed by the petitioner;
(iii) that the petitioner has already filed an appeal before the Delhi School Tribunal against the termination order and should have awaited the final verdict of the Tribunal instead of adopting the RTI route; and,
(iv) that the petitioner has been indulging in serious misuse of RTI Act, which cannot be encouraged and CIC had in another order admonished the petitioner for using the RTI for personal vengeance without any public interest behind her requests for information.
There was another order, referred to by the CIC in the impugned order, which was dated 6th May, 2015 of the CIC and where, in addition, it is recorded that, (i) the teacher had sought very voluminous information about the Society, from school whereof the petitioner had been removed, pertaining to two decades, such as elections conducted to the Society during the service of the petitioner in the schooletc.; (ii) that the petitioner had been using the route of RTI to build up pressure on the management of the school and to harass the school authorities; (iii) that the information sought by the petitioner was
without any purpose and merely to torture the school authorities and out of vengeance; (iv) that the conduct of the petitioner was unethical and immoral; (v) that the petitioner had abused RTI and had almost arrested functioning of the school with her frivolous applications and making the officers and teachers of the school appear before First and Second Appellate Authorities; (vi) RTI is not for such anti- discipline and irresponsible elements; and, (vii) any encouragement to persons such as the petitioner will leave the schools and the Education Officers demoralised.
Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw of Delhi High Court noted “Interestingly, the petitioner has not challenged the order dated 6th May, 2015. However upon the same being put to the counsel for the petitioner, he states that the petitioner has challenged the said order dated 6th May, 2015 also but is unable to show any challenge thereto in the prayer paragraphs of the petition. He states that the said order dated 6th May, 2015 remained to be mentioned in the prayer paragraphs…… I may in this regard notice that this petition had come up before this Court first on 21st August, 2015 when the counsel for the petitioner sought time to file amended petition owing to certain typographical errors in the petition then filed and thereafter vide order dated 2nd September, 2015 amended petition was taken on record. The petitioner, in spite thereof, has not challenged the order dated 6th May, 2015”.
The Justice Endlaw stated that petitioner could not challenge after the observations in CIC order were allowed to attain finality. He said: “The observations / findings of the CIC in the impugned order dated 26th June, 2015 qua which grievance is made in this petition are but a reproduction of the observations/findings in order dated 6th May, 2015 which has not been challenged by the petitioner. Once the same observations / findings have been allowed to attain finality, no challenge thereto can be made in this petition. The petition is liable to be dismissed on this ground alone”.
A rare instance
The Delhi High Court made a very significant point. If it is found that RTI was being misused, it is the duty of the petitioner to show the public purpose, if any, behind the RTI application and the authorities under RTI, such as CIC, have a duty to stop the abuse. Justice Endlaw said: “Even otherwise, this is a rare instance where the Authority constituted under the RTI Act to oversee the working and implementation of the said Act, namely the CIC, has itself found a person to be abusing the process of the RTI and the machinery created thereunder. The petitioner has not controverted the factual aspect of making a number of RTI queries and preferring as many as 20 appeals to the CIC. Similarly, the petitioner has not been able to explain the reason, for which the information spanning over several decades, was sought.
Though undoubtedly, the reason for seeking the information is not required to be disclosed but when it is found that the process of the law is being abused, the same become relevant. Neither the authorities created under the RTI Act nor the Courts are helpless if witness the provisions of law being abused and owe a duty to immediately put a stop thereto”.