Jharkhand High Court differentiates between ‘Public Authority’ and ‘Public Information Officer’

Right to Information RTI Law Insider

Munmun Kaur

Published On: February 07, 2022 at 16:01 IST

Recently, the Jharkhand High Court held that the State Information Commission has the power to pass an Order of Compensation by resorting to the provisions of Section 19(8)(b) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The Decision came in a Writ Petition preferred by the State of Jharkhand challenging an Order by the State Information Commission imposing a penalty of Rs. 60,000 under Section 19(8) of the Right to Information Act which was imposed for not providing the information in time.

The Counsel for the Petitioner argued that the provision of the RTI Act for Order of penalty can only be passed upon the Public Information Officer who can only be treated to be erring official in not supplying the information in a request made under Section 6 & 7 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

On the other hand, the Counsel for the State Information Commission submitted that there is no error in awarding the penalty upon the concerned department as there has been a reference of ‘Public Authority’ under Section 19(8)(b) of the 2005 Act, on whom Compensation can be imposed.

He further used the argument about the definition of Public Authority to submit that the Health Department of the State should be treated as a Public Authority, and thus penalty can be imposed.

Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad hearing the matter held that the RTI Act specifically differentiates between Public Authority and Public Information Officer to the effect the Public Information Officer (PIO) is the designated officer designated by the Public Authority.

The High Court read together with the definition of a Public Authority under Section 2(h) of the Act along with Section 4 and 5 to note that the Public Authority will be said to be the Authority if established or constituted by the enforcement of the Law or under the Constitution. In other words, the Public Authority, if found to be State within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India, the same would be said to be Public Authorities.

The High Court also took note of the fact that the Act suggests that the Public Information Officer if approached by the information seeker, must obtain the information from the Custody of the Public Authority. After that, it would be supplied, if permissible, to the concerned information seeker.

Therefore, the object of the Act, 2005 is casting obligation upon the Public Authority who is the Authority constituted either under the Constitution or any enforcement of Law either by the Parliament or by the State legislature or anybody owned or financially aided by the State Government.”

After resolving the issue of the distinction between Public Authority and the Public Information Officer, the Court observed that the part of the Order of liability of Compensation is to be inflicted upon the Public Authority to compensate the Complainant.

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