In a significant judgment, the Central Information Commission Friday struck down a government circular that puts a cap on the number of public authorities to which an RTI application can be transferred.
As of now, an RTI application can be transferred to just one public authority from another as a 1998 Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) circular states that a public authority is to be construed as “singular”. This meant that an RTI applicant had to make separate requests to different departments if the information being sought concerned more than one authority.
Not any longer. “The law does not put any restriction on the public authorities to which the RTI application could be transferred,” Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said in his verdict. “DoPT’s (circular) is not consistent with the law.”
Underlining that the purpose of the RTI Act was to facilitate flow of information to the citizens, Gandhi said, “There is nothing in the Act to show that Parliament intended that the transfer (of an application) should only be to one public authority.”
Gandhi was hearing a case of a Mumbai-based applicant, who had sought information about consumption of petrol and diesel by the ministers and the Leader of Opposition in the last 10 years. He RTI plea to Lok Sabha Secretariat was transferred to the Cabinet Secretariat and the office of the Leader of Opposition.
Both refused the information, with the Cabinet Secretariat arguing that it could not transfer the application to PIOs of various ministries for getting the information. It based its stand on the DoPT circular “which says that Section 6(3) of RTI Act mentions public authority in the singular and therefore the RTI application can only be transferred to one public authority”.
Gandhi, however, was not convinced. He ruled that General Clauses Act, 1897 “enacts a general rule... that words in the singular shall include the plural and vice versa”. “It appears that DOPT (circular) is in contravention of General Clauses Act, 1987 and interpreted Section 6(3) of the RTI Act wrongly.”
He recalled several instances where RTI requests were transferred to different public authorities. “In this scenario, for public authorities to take a position that they will only transfer to one authority is unreasonable..... the law certainly does not state this,” he said, striking down the circular.
Gandhi refused to accept the claim that transferring a request to multiple authorities would mean “putting in a lot of resource”.