Information Commission cannot directly entertain complaint against officers, say High Court

Those seeking information under the Right to Information Act cannot directly approach the Karnataka State Information Commission on being refused information by public information officers (PIOs). They will have to first exhaust the provision for the first appeal before the higher officers of the public authority concerned, according to the High Court of Karnataka.

And, the State Information Commission cannot directly entertain a complaint against the PIOs or initiate action against them for refusing to provide information if the complainant has not used the first appeal provision.

Justice S. Abdul Nazeer of the High Court issued the directions while allowing petitions filed by Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Ltd. (Bescom) and three of its officers. The petitioners had challenged the action of the State Information Commission in imposing a penalty on the officers besides permitting the applicant, S. Naresh Kumar, to inspect the records that he had sought through PIOs of Bescom.

While Mr. Kumar had claimed that he had approached the State Information Commission as the authorities failed to provide him the information, Bescom contended that its officers had provided the information to the applicant.

It was contended on behalf of Bescom that the applicant should have approached the first appellate authority, and the State Information Commission cannot entertain a complaint when the applicant had not availed himself of the appeal provision.

The High Court said, “The procedure adopted by the first respondent [Karnataka State Information Commission] is clearly not permissible in law. If the second respondent [applicant] is aggrieved by the PIO, then he has to file an appeal under Section 19(1) before the [first] appellate authority and if aggrieved by the action or inaction of the [first] appellate authority, then has to file an appeal under Section 19(3) before the second appellate authority. Filing of an application under Section 18(1) of the Act complaining of alleged inaction of the PIO is clearly not permissible in law.”