A Little Confusion: RTI vis-à-vis CPA
So, do you become a consumer when you file an RTI? While simple logic may tell you that since you are paying (RTI fee) for a service (seeking information), you automatically become a consumer and may also challenge any deficiency in service. The relationship in both the acts is not quite so direct, though. A few decisions in the recent past have not been as simple and have ended up in an arguable and sometimes controversial decision.
In January this year, in a first-of-its-kind decision in the state, Bengaluru District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum held that the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act could be invoked whenever there was a “deficiency by the public authorities in providing services” under the RTI Act.
The forum ruled that under the Act a public authority was required to provide certain services, and when the authority failed to do so, it amounted to ‘ deficiency of service’ and for such lapses the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act were applicable.
A Bench comprising forum president T Rajashekaraiah and member Subhashini had passed an order on 23 January 2014 on a complaint by K Dhananjay, an engineer working with the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Koramangala, Bengaluru, against the director of the institute.
The IIA had collected Rs 286 and Rs 314 on two occasions in 2010–11 for providing certain documents after the Central Information Commission (CIC) directed it to supply information to Dhananjay when he complained that the institute failed to provide certain documents under the RTI Act. The institute supplied the documents after the 30-day deadline lapsed.
The forum found that under Section 7 of the RTI Act, public authorities would have to supply information/documents for free if the information sought was supplied after the 30-day deadline. Following this, the forum held that the action of the institute in collecting fees was ‘illegal’ and hence amounted to ‘ deficiency of service’, and directed the institute to refund the Rs 600 collected as fee to the complainant along with Rs 900 as the cost of litigation.
In a similar order passed in 2013, the Ernakulam Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum had said that when information was denied to an RTI applicant, it would be considered as deficiency in service and the applicant would then be entitled to compensation under the Consumer Protection Act.
The directive came on a petition filed by DB Binu, general secretary, Human Rights Defence Forum. He had filed an RTI application at Kochi Corporation