Consumers beware!
RTI not covered by consumer courts
Pushpa Girimaji

Is it possible to seek compensation through the consumer court for any loss or harassment suffered on account of delay or inadequacy in the information given by a Public Information Officer under the Right to Information Act?

This very same question was addressed by the apex consumer court in a recent case and the clear verdict was that such complaints cannot be entertained by the consumer courts. In order to arrive at this decision, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission looked at three important provisions of the Right to Information Act. One was Section 22, which talks about the overriding effect of the Act, Section 23, which bars the jurisdiction of any court to entertain any suit, application or other proceedings in respect of any order made under the RTI Act and Section 19 which provides for procedure for filing appeals under the Act.

Referring to these Sections, the National Commission pointed out that they made it very clear that consumer courts had no jurisdiction to hear or adjudicate over such complaints. (Kali Ram vs State Public Information Officer-Cum- Deputy Excise and Taxation Commissioner, RP No 3396 of 2013 decided on October 9, 2013) In this particular case, the complainant, Mr Kali Ram, was a clerk at a check post in Sikanderpur, Gurgaon, under the office of the Deputy Excise and Taxation Commissioner, Gurgoan. During the tenure of his service in the year 1989-90, the Deputy Commissioner recorded some adverse remarks in his Annual Confidential Report and even though the complainant made some representation against it, it was apparently not heard.

So he sought information on the issue from the Public Information Officer under the RTI Act, but the PIO did not furnish the information within 30 days and even when it was given after a further delay of 28 days, the information was incomplete. He then filed an appeal before the State PIO , which was dismissed by the Appellate Authority.

Aggrieved, he filed a complaint before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, seeking a compensation of Rs 2 lakh and a direction to the Information Officer to give complete information. The District Forum in response, awarded a compensation of Rs 5,000 and costs of Rs 3,000.

In response to the appeal filed by the information authority, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission set it aside, quoting a Supreme Court's judgement Khanapuram Gandaiah vs Administrative Officer and Ors (AIR 2010 SC 615), where it was held that the remedy for a party aggrieved against the order of the Public Information Officer lies in a challenge by way of appeal, revision or any other legally permissible mode (under the RTI Act). So this time, the complainant filed a revision petition before the National Commission. While dismissing the revision petition, the Commission also referred to two other decisions of the apex consumer court on the subject, where a similar view was held. In T. Pundalika vs Revenue Department (Service division), government of Karnataka (RP NO 4061 of 2010, decided on March 31, 2011), the Commission had made it clear that since there is a remedy available under the RTI Act to approach the appellate authority under Section 19 , the consumer courts cannot adjudicate over the complaint. A similar view was expressed in Pothireddipalli Sugunavati vs Territory Manager, Bharat Petroleum Corporation (RP NO 3276 of 2012,) decided on January 14, 2013.

Are there any case laws pertaining to award of compensation by the consumer courts against the negligence of an Information Officer under the Right to Information Act? If so, can you please give the reference?

I have already answered this question. The only case laws available make it clear that consumer courts do not have any jurisdiction to hear such complaints.