Wednesday 14 January 2015

Whether RTI applicant can approach consumer forum for redress?

An RTI applicant cannot approach Consumer Forum seeking compensation for deficiency in services rendered by public authorities

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) has said that Right to Information (RTI) applicants seeking information from public authorities are not consumers as per the Consumer Act. In addition, all RTI applications and redressal or grievances, if any, have to be dealt as per the RTI Act only, the NCDRC said.
In an judgement given on 8 January 2015, the three member bench of NCDRC declared that no RTI applicant can file a complaint before a Consumer Forum seeking redressal in case of any deficiency services rendered by a Public Information Officer (PIO) or Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) in any public authority.
This decision would help clear the confusion regarding whether an RTI applicant can be treated as a consumer, as she pays certain fees while filing an application. The Bench said, “…because the RTI Act was set up as a special statute, which also articulates a procedure for  grievance redressal, allowing RTI applicants to approach the Consumer Forum would beat the ‘legislative intent’ of the RTI Act.” 
Under the Act, the State or Central Information Commission is empowered to impose a penalty upon the PIO/CPIO in question and also recommend disciplinary action against them. Moreover, under Sub Section (6) of Section 18, they can also direct the concerned PIO/CPIO to pay a suitable compensation to the aggrieved RTI applicant, the Bench said. 
According to the judgement, allowing RTI applicants to be treated as “consumers” and hence letting them approach Consumer Forums in order to seek compensation would “open two parallel machineries, for enforcement of the same rights created by a special statute”. Furthermore, “The ambit of RTI Act is confined to one service i.e. supply of information, whereas the Consumer Protection Act deals with deficiencies in a wide variety of services rendered for consideration,” the judgement reads. 
The judgement also states, “Consumer fora are ‘courts’ for the purpose of Section 23 of the RTI Act, which is significant, because Section 23 of the RTI Act bars the jurisdiction of courts. As explained in the judgement, the very purpose of doing this was ‘to exclude invocation of a redressal mechanism’ other than that provided under the special Act.”
This would avoid any confusions or disputes with respect to the grievance redressal mechanism for any RTI applicant in future. The judgement clearly articulates that no RTI applicant can be considered a “consumer”, and that the Consumer Forum is barred from intervening in any matters pertaining to the provisions under the RTI Act. 
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