Quantum of penalty on PIOs for not giving RTI info on time will depend on malice: Delhi High Court

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The Delhi High Court recently observed that even though the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) stipulates a maximum penalty of ₹250 per day on the Public Information Officer (PIO) for refusing to receive an application or denying information with mala fide intent, it is not mandatory to impose the maximum penalty on the officer [Pooja V Shah v Bank of India].

Justice Subramonium Prasad referred to Section 20 of the RTI Act and said that penalty amount would depend on the malice and the degree of inaction on the part of the PIO in not providing the information.

“What is mandatory is the imposition of penalty and not the quantum of penalty. The RTI Act only specifies the maximum limit of the penalty and not the minimum limit. It is nowhere mentioned that delay of each day will incur a penalty of ₹250/-. The Petitioner is trying to construe that it is mandatory on the part of the Public Information Officers to pay ₹250/- each day regardless of the degree of malice or inaction. Such an interpretation cannot be sustained,” the Court observed.

It further stated that the degree of the penalty would also depend and differ upon the knowledge of the PIL and the reasons as to why officer could not furnish the relevant information.

The Court made the observations while dealing with a plea filed an RTI applicant Pooja V Shah challenging the orders passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) imposing costs ranging from ₹5,000 to ₹20,000 on several PIOs of Bank of India.

It was Shah’s case that a reading of Section 20 of the RTI Act mandates a penalty of ₹250 for each day till the information is furnished subject to the condition that the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed ₹25,000.

Shah argued that since the delay in the present cases exceeded 100 days, maximum penalty of ₹25,000 ought to have been imposed on each of the PIOs and that the CIC has no power to reduce the amount of penalty which is fixed by the statute.

After considering the case, the Court held that it will not decide the quantum of the penalty imposed on the PIOs and that adequate punishment has been given to the officers who have been made to pay the penalty from their salaries.

The Court added that the issue has already been settled by the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court in Anand Bhushan v RA Haritash.

Advocates Arpit Bhargava, Hina Bhargava, Amrita Dhawan and Pankaj appeared for petitioner.

Bank of India was represented by advocates Rahul Dubey and Srikanth Varma.

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