CIC directs PMO to re-examine RTI app for information on planning behind national lockdown and control of COVID-19

The Central Information Commission directed the Prime Minister’s Office to reconsider a request from RTI requesting details regarding the imposition of a nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The information was denied by the Under-Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office (acting as Public Information Officer) citing Section 7(9) of the Right to Information Act 2005.

The provision states: Information shall normally be provided unless doing so would disproportionately divert the resources of public authority or would be detrimental to the security or preservation of the record in question.

Chief Information Commissioner YK Sinha stated that the CMP did not cite any substantive provision of the Act justifying such an exemption from disclosure. Therefore, he ruled that the response sent by the PIO is “legally indefensible”.

Section 8 of the Act provides for situations justifying an exemption from the disclosure of information (detailed at the end of this report).

After reviewing the facts of the case, the Commission is of the opinion that the PIO’s response does not comply with the provisions of the RTI Act… The Respondent merely indicated that the details requested by the Applicant fall under the provisions of Article 7(9) of the RTI Act 2005. Thus, the information requested by the Appellant was not provided to him. and the appropriate provisions of the RTI Law were not cited justifying the exemption from disclosure, in the response addressed to the Appellant,“, said the CIC.

The Appellant, Jugal Purohit, a journalist by profession, had requested information on the meetings held by the PMO between January and March 2020 on Covid-19 and the authorities who took part in them.

He also asked for details of state and central authorities, experts and think tanks with whom the PMO consulted on any aspect related to the imposition of the nationwide lockdown.

In addition, he sought relevant copies of communications from meetings that discussed planning for lockdown enforcement, ensuring availability of essential supplies, and responding to and mitigating impact.

Dissatisfied with the refusal of information by the PIO, the Appellant had filed a First Appeal on January 12, 2021. Aggrieved and dissatisfied by the order dated February 17, 2021 from the Appeal Authority, the Appellant contacted to the Commission with this Second Appeal.

The CIC has now directed the PIO, PMO to reconsider the RTI request and provide a revised timely response in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act, within three weeks.

A compliance report is due by the end of this month.

[Exemptions provided under Section 8 include:

(a) information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, its economic interests, relation with foreign State, etc.;

(b) information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law;

(c) information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;

(d) information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property; (e) available to a person in his fiduciary relationship;

(f) information received in confidence from foreign Government;

(g) information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person;

(h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

(i) cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers;

(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.]

Case title: Jugal Purohit against the Prime Minister’s Office

Click here to download the order