Observing that “Chief Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has demonstrated complete lack of judicial discipline”, the Delhi High Court has quashed two orders passed by him on appeals by a RTI activist against denial of information sought by him from the Registrar of Companies regarding a company.
The Registrar of Companies had denied information to the activist under the Right to Information Act saying that it was not within the purview of the Act as the information sought was available in public domain.
Justice Vipin Sanghi also pulled up Mr. Gandhi for ignoring two orders by two former Central Information Commissioners upholding denial of information to RTI applicants which is available in public domain by not recording any reasons for disagreeing with the orders and referring the issue to a larger bench of the Commission to decide.
“In the present case, Central Information Commissioner Mr. Shailesh Gandhi has also demonstrated complete lack of judicial discipline while rendering the impugned decisions. By no stretch of imagination, it cannot be said that the earlier decisions were not on the point,” Justice observed.
“It is a well-settled canon of judicial discipline that a bench dealing with a matter respects an earlier decision rendered by a coordinate bench (i.e., a bench of same strength), and is bound by the decision of a larger bench. If this discipline is breached, the same would lead to complete chaos and confusion in the minds of the litigating public, as well as in the minds of others such as lawyers, other members/judges of quasi-judicial/judicial bodies, and the like,” Justice Sanghi observed while quashing his orders.
The RTI activist, Dharmendra Kumar Garg, had approached the CIC bypassing the First Appellate Authority when the Chief Public Information Officers (CPIO) of the Registrar of Companies at Delhi and Haryana where the applicant had filed two applications seeking about information about the company refused to give information to him under the Right to Information Act saying that the same was available in public domain under the Registrar of Companies Act and could be obtained on payment of specified fees.
The information officers also said that the information sought by the applicant was not held by or under the public authority.
Dismissing the contention of the CPIOs, Chief Information Commissioner allowed the two appeals against their similar replies and asked them to supply the information sought by the applicant. He also issued show-cause notices to the two information officers asking them to show cause why penalty should not be imposed on them for not providing information to the applicant within the stipulated 30 days.
Mr. Gandhi had also dismissed argument by the Registrar of Companies that earlier two Central Information Commissioners had upheld that the information available in public domain was not required to be provided under the Right to Information Act by simply saying that “I would respectfully beg to differ from this decision.”
“If Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi had a different view in the matter – which he was entitled to hold, judicial discipline demanded that he should have recorded his disagreement with the view of Sh. A.N. Tiwari, Central Information Commissioner, and, for reasons to be recorded by him, required the constitution of a larger bench to re-examine the issue.”
“He could not have ridden roughshod over the earlier decisions of A.N. Tiwari and Prof. M.M. Ansari, particularly when he was sitting singly to consider the same issue of law,” Justice Sanghi said.
“For all the aforesaid reasons, I allow the present petition and quash the impugned orders passed by Shailesh Gandhi, Central Information Commissioner,” Justice Sanghi said.