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CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION

Appeal No.CIC/WB/A/2007/00084 dated 25-1-2007

Right to Information Act 2005 – Section 19

Appellant - Shri Dharmesh Shah


Respondent - National Environmental Engg. Research Institute (NEERI),
Nagpur

Facts:
By an application of 14-6-06 Shri Dharmesh Shah of Basant Nagar,
Chennai applied to the CPIO, NEERI, Nagpur seeking the following information:
1. “List of all the projects undertaken between 1998 and 2006 by
NEERI.
Under each project, name of project, cost or amount charged for
project; name of client(s); date of commissioning; date of completion.

2. Details of any incentive system that provides NEERI staff with


economic remuneration from consultancies or projects with private
and non-governmental clients.

3. Details of projects (name of the project; cost/amount charged; date


of commissioning; date of completion) undertaken for the following
parties – Sterlite Industries India Ltd. Hindustan Lever Ltd,
Tamilnadu Waste Management Ltd. Tamilnadu Pollution Control
Board.

4. Details of projects undertake related to Union Carbide factory site in


Bhopal and/or related to contamination arising out of the said site.

5. Date and details, including purpose of visit, name of sponsor, place


of stay, cost of stay and mode of payment for accommodation, of
and during visits by NEERI staff to M/s. Hindustan Lever Ltd.
Kodaikanal, and M/s. Sterlite Industries Ltd. Tuticorin, in the period
1998 to 2006.
6. Date and details of visits by staff or officials of M/s. Hindustan Lever
Ltd. And M/s. Sterlite Industries India Ltd. To NEERI, including
names of officials, purpose of visit, outcome of visit, names of
NEERI staff met.”

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To this he received a response on 6-9-06 from Ms. V.A. Deshpande,
CPIO, Research & Development Planning Unit, NEERI on the following grounds:
“I am to state that any information pertaining to sponsored/
consultancy projects is of confidential nature and is not to be
disclosed from NEERI’s side. Therefore, you may approach –
Sterlite Industries India Ltd. Hindustan Lever Ltd. Tamil Nadu
Waste Management Ltd., Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board for
getting relevant information.”

Aggrieved, appellant Shri Dharmesh Shah moved his first appeal before
the First Appellate Authority on 29-8-06 . To this there was no response. The
prayer of the appellant before us in his second appeal is as below:
“Thorough examination of the case and action against errant
officials.
- Reasons for delay in response and provision of the
requested information for free due to the delay.”

The appeal was scheduled for hearing by videoconference on 16-5-08.


The following appeared before the Registry of this Commission:
Appellant: (NIC Studio Chennai)
Shri Roopesh, authorized representative of Appellant.

Respondents: (NIC Studio Nagpur)


Shri Tapan Chakrabarti, Appellate Authority, NEERI
Shri Ghosh, PIO, NEERI.

Shri Roopesh submitted a letter of authorization received on 16-5-08 from


appellant Shri Dharmesh Shah, a copy of which was communicated to us by e-
mail.

Shri Sapan Chakrabarti submitted a written response to the appeal notice.


Both the parties agreed that this Commission may take a decision on the subject
on the basis of records, as noted by the Joint Registrar in the hearing. We
therefore deferred a decision to await further submission before taking a decision
in this matter. We have now also received on 26.5.’07 written arguments of
appellant Shri Dharmesh Shah.

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DECISION NOTICE

We have accordingly examined the records. The issues before us are two –
1) Delay in response and liability for penalty.
2) Providing requested information free of charge.

The letter of 16.5.08 from Sh. T. Chakrabarti, Acting Director & First
Appellate Authority NEERI has traced the movement of the application as
follows:-
“According to the records kept by our Diary section kindly note that
1. The “fee” of Rs. 10/- was received through Bank Draft No. 121985,
from Mr. Dharmesh Shah on 20th June, 2006 (Attachment I)

2. The application, dated 14th June, 2006 of Mr. Dharmesh Shah to


PIO, NEERI was received on 1st September, 2006 (Attachment-II)

3. The letter, dated 29th Aug 2006 of Mr. Dharmesh Shah to Appellate
Authority of NEERI was also received on 1st September, 2006
(Attachment-II)

PIO, NEERI had replied to Mr. Dharmesh Shah on 6th September,


2006 (letter No. RDPU/22.50/RTI/2006/mentioning Mr. Shah’s
application dated 14th June, 2006 had been received at NEERI,
Nagpur on 1st September, 2006.

Since the original application of Mr. Dharmesh Shah reached


NEERI on the same day as of his first appeal, (i.e. on 1st
September, 2006) the reply from PIO NEERI was construed as
serving the purpose of responding to the applicant’s (i.e. Mr.
Dharmesh Shah’s) queries.”

With this letter he has attached copies of the dispatch register seeking to
substantiate the above statement. Appellant Shri Dharmesh Shah has on the
other hand in his statement also traced the responses to his application and
referred to the application receipt received from the Accounts of NEERI for
payment of fee, on 23.6.’06

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On the question of delay, we accept the plea of Dr. Chakrabarti Acting
Director and Appellate Authority that the application of 14.6.06 of Shri Dharmesh
Shah to PIO was received on 1.9.2006, since this is also what has been stated in
the PIO’s response of 2.9.2006, and supported by the Receipt Register.
Although, therefore, no penalty will lie, Director NEERI will order enquiry into why
a letter posted in June should have been received so much later, when a
payment of the application was acknowledged on 23.6.’06, and whether the
Receipt Section of the Public Authority is giving due weightage to RTI
applications.

On issue No. 2, Shri Chakrabarti has then gone on to submit as follows:


“Shri Dharmesh Shah had enlisted six queries (Attachment III)
which were replied in a clubbed manner from NEERI’s end by PIO,
NEERI. That means the replies were not made point wise.”

From the above, it should be quite clear that the application of Shri
Dharmesh Shah has in fact been refused out of hand, although it is admitted by
Shri T. Chakrabarti that replies were not made point wise, which would place the
response in violation of sec. 7(9) which requires that “an information shall
ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought”. Besides, a blanket refusal
to provide information has been given without citing any exemption under the RTI
Act. In fact the only conceivable exemption that can be sought by respondent
was under 8(1)(d) that reads as follows :
8(1)(d)

1. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no


obligation to give any citizen,—
(d) information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or
intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the
competitive position of a third party, unless the competent
authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the
disclosure of such information;

But it is difficult to see how even this exemption can be sought to any of the
questions, all of which relate to information on NEERI and the projects

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undertaken by it and not the relative efforts of those who have won the contracts
of the details of their information, nor indeed as pointed out by appellant Shri
Shah in his rejoinder, details of project reports. Surely it is absurd to advise
appellant Shri Dharmesh Shah as Ms. Deshpande has done to seek information
on detailed incentive systems and tours of the staff of NEERI fro the contractors.
The only question that such companies could possibly answer is question No. 6.

In light of the above, we hereby direct as follows:

ISSUE NO. 1
Director NEERI will enquire into the reasons for delay in receipt of a letter posted
on 24.6.06, as submitted by Shri Shah in his letter of 22.8.06 in first appeal that
was received by NEERI only on 1.9.06 and take up with the concerned
authorities the reasons for such a delay in order to rectify this shortcoming.

ISSUE NO. 2
Each of the six questions put by Shri Dharmesh Shah be answered point wise,
within ten working days of receipt of this Decision Notice under intimation to Shri
PKP Shreyaskar Jt Registrar, Central Information Commission. If for any reason
CPIO seeks exemption from disclosure in responding to any one of the
questions, the reasons for so seeking such exemption will require to be clearly
expatiated in accordance with the decision of Ravinder Bhat J. of the Delhi High
Court in Bhagat Singh vs. C.I.C. In this case the judgment of the Delhi High
Court in W.P.(C) No.3114/2007 – Shri Bhagat Singh Vs. Chief Information
Commissioner & Ors is of relevance, since it deals with the application of
exemption u/sec. 8(1), the relevant portion of which reads as follows:
12. The Act is an effectuation of the right to freedom of speech and
expression. In an increasingly knowledge based society,
information and access to information holds the key to
resources, benefits, and distribution of power. Information,
more than any other element, is of critical importance
participatory democracy. By one fell stroke, under the Act, the
make of procedures and official barriers that had previously

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impeded information, has been swept aside. The citizen and
information seekers have, subject to a few exceptions, an
overriding right to be given information on matters in the
possession of the state and public agencies that are covered by
the Act. As is reflected in its preambular paragraphs, the
enactment seeks to promote transparency, arrest corruption
and to hold the government and its instrumentalities
accountable to the governed. This spirit of the Act must be
borne in mind while construing the provisions contained therein
13. Access to information under Section 3 of the Act is the rule and
exemptions under Section 8, the exception. Section 8 being a
restriction on this fundamental right, must therefore is to be
strictly construed. It should not be interpreted in manner as to
shadow the very right self.

The appeal is thus allowed. Announced in open chamber on 10.7.2008.

Notice of this decision be given free of cost to the parties.

(Wajahat Habibullah)
Chief Information Commissioner
10.7.2008

Authenticated true copy. Additional copies of orders shall be supplied against


application and payment of the charges, prescribed under the Act, to the CPIO
of this Commission.

(Pankaj Shreyaskar)
Joint Registrar
10.7.2008