CIC widens scope of RTI application

Applicants can seek info on more subjects

CIC widens scope of RTI application

Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, in a sharp departure from the Commission’s earlier decisions, observed: “There is no legal requirement on an applicant’s part to restrict the scope of RTI application to only one subject matter”.

The observation was made during the hearing of a plea by D K Bhaumik, who had sought information on various issues related to mandatory suo-moto disclosures under the RTI Act made by the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI). Bhaumik’s application was rejected by the Bank saying that it was not limited to one subject matter.

The applicant was asked by the Bank to pay additional amount of Rs 180 as RTI fee for providing information on 19 points. The Bank observed that “bundling of a series of requests in one application was not open to the information seeker unless he paid for each request of information separately.”

The latest decision by the CIC reverses the earlier rulings by then chief information commissioners, Wajahat Habibullah and A N Tiwari, which held that as per the RTI Act an application should contain either one request or a single category of request.

Gandhi observed “the then chief information commissioners have interpreted the term ‘a request’ used both under sections 6(1) and 7(1) of the RTI Act to mean one category of information...if information sought pertains to different categories, then each request shall be treated separately and paid for accordingly.”

“No parameters have been laid down by the then chief information commissioners by which an applicant and the PIO can determine whether the information sought pertains to one- subject matter,” he said.

RTI community and campaigners have for long been protesting against “one application, one subject matter” rule for RTI applicants. In the present case, the Bank relied upon previous decisions by Habibullah and Tiwari that restricted an application to either one request or a single category of request.

Quoting a Supreme Court order where it was held that words of a statute must prima facie be given their ordinary meaning, Gandhi said, “This commission respectfully disagrees with the interpretation given by the then chief information commissioners.”

“It is important to mention that no legal basis has been given by the then chief information commissioners while coming to the said interpretation... If at all a meaning is ascribed to the term ‘a request’, it would mean ‘an application’ seeking information under the RTI Act,” he said.

The fiat

* No legal requirement for applicant to restrict scope of RTI application to only one subject matter
* No clear definition of what ‘one category of request’ means
* Latest CIC ruling reverses decisions taken by then chief information commissioners that favoured ‘one application, one subject matter’ rule
* RTI applicants and campaigners have long protested against the rule
 

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