Reacting to a strange instance in Madhya Pradesh, under the RTI Act, the State Information Commission on Friday clarified that it is illogical and illegal to withhold information on the grounds that the RTI applicant is an advocate.
Additionally, a penalty of Rs 15,000 has been imposed against the officer for withholding the information.
Grounds for refusing to provide information to the Applicant who is an advocate Yogendra Shukla, Secretary (Bahuribandh Gram Panchayat, Rewa District) refused to give information under the RTI Act to the applicant Krishanendra Shukla, who is a lawyer by profession, on the ground that he is an advocate.
The applicant had sought information about the infrastructure development works in the panchayat. The Secretary of the Gram Panchayat, citing the letter of a Public Information Officer of the Revenue Department of Vallabh Bhavan, said that “information under the RTI Act” can be taken by any person, but the word advocate does not come under the definition of the word ‘citizen’ since advocates are engaged in legal profession after getting registered under the Bar Council of India therefore they cannot be provided information under the RTI Act.
Prior instances of refusing information on the ground of applicant being an advocate
When the matter reached before the State Information Commissioner Rahul Singh, he summoned both the Secretary of the Gram Panchayat and the Chief Executive Officer of the Janpad Panchayat in this matter. Even during the hearings, the Gram Panchayat Secretary remained firm on his point that the RTI applicant is an advocate by profession and that is why he cannot be provided the information. Referring to the letter issued by Public Information Officer Rajesh Kumar Kaul working in the Revenue Department of Vallabh Bhavan, the secretary said that Kaul had refused to provide the information to a Lucknow based advocate Rudra Pratap Singh on the fact that he was a legal practitioner and an advocate, and the term ‘advocate’ does not come under the definition of the word ‘citizen’.
All citizens including ‘advocate’ have the right to seek information
SIC Rahul Singh made it clear in his order that under Section 3 of the Right to Information Act, all citizens of India have the right to access information. It is illegal to deny information on the basis of occupation or class. Provision to withhold the Information is available only in section 8 and 9 of RTI Act.
A fine of Rs 15,000 imposed on the PIO
The Commission has imposed a penalty of Rs 15,000 on the Gram Panchayat Secretary for withholding the information wrongly by giving this unlawful decision. The actual penalty was Rs25000 however when the State Information Commissioner inquired the Gram Panchayat Secretary about his salary during the hearing, it was Rs26000. Therefore, the State Information Commissioner, exercising his discretionary power, reduced the amount of fine from Rs. 25000 to Rs. 15000. The advocate objected and argued for imposing maximum penalty, the State Information Commissioner Singh clarified that the purpose of punishment is for steady implementation of the RTI Act and not for revenge.
Singh said that "imposition of penalty is discretionary power of the Commission and also the Commission needs to see the practical implementation of Act. The imposition of maximum penalty on the Public Information Office might lead to challenge in running his household."