In an order which has far reaching implication, the full bench of national consumer commission has ruled that an RTI applicant was a not consumer under the Consumer Protection Act.
National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission comprising justice Ajit Bharihoke, Dr BC Gupta and justice VK Jain has finally settled the law on the conflict between the Right to Information (RTI) and Consumer Protection Acts.
The commission has held that the person seeking information under the provisions of RTI Act cannot be called a consumer vis-à-vis the public authority concerned or CPIO/PIO nominated by it and therefore consumer fora cannot entertain any complaint regarding violation of the provisions of the RTI Act.
Pankaj Chandgothia, counsel for one of the public information officers (PIOs) in the case, said there were conflicting judgments on the point and therefore a larger bench was constituted so that the issue could be conclusively settled.
Sanjay Kumar Mishra of Panchkula had filed a revision petition against the orders of the UT state commission claiming to be a consumer within the meaning of the Consumer Protection Acts and sought compensation from the opposite parties, including the PIO and chief information commissioner of the Central Information Commission, Punjab.
The UT State Commission, Chandigarh, headed by justice (retd) Sham Sunder took the view that the district forum had no jurisdiction to entertain complaints of the aforesaid nature and accordingly dismissed Mishra's complaint.
Apart from this case, there were 92 more applicants under RTI who had approached the consumer fora against deficiencies of various RTI authorities, including the Bar Council of India and railways. All cases have been decided by a recent common order.
The applicants contended that supply of information under the RTI Act is a 'service' as defined in Section 2(o) of the Consumer Protection Act, provided that such services are not rendered free of charge.
The person seeking information under RTI Act is required not only to pay the fee prescribed in terms of Section-6 but also the cost of providing the information. So long as a consideration in the form of fee/further fee is paid, it cannot be disputed that the information under RTI Act is supplied for consideration. Therefore, the applicants fall within the ambit of Consumer Protection Act.
Chandgothia contended that the RTI Act was a complete code in itself and also had an adequate and effective remedy to the person aggrieved from any decision, inaction, act, omission or misconduct of a CPIO/PIO.
"Not only does the Act provide for two appeals, it also provides for a complaint to the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be, in a case where the CPIO/PIO does not give his decision on the application within the prescribed time," he submitted.