A daughter-in-law’s RTI within family

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As domestic disputes are increasing and courts of law are flooded with maintenance petitions, information becomes crucial for adjudication. A daughter-in-law wanted to know the pension arrears of her father-in-law. As the widow of the pensioner’s son, she in her capacity as the “putra vadhu” wanted that information. She was asking for action taken report on representation with regard to pension arrears of her father-in-law that needed to be settled.

The CPIO contended that the information sought belonged to third party and rejected her plea. He contended no proof of legality of her claim was presented, hence information about pension could not be given. He referred to Swamy’s compilation of rules but ignored 2005 amendment to Hindu Succession Act, according to which sons and married/unmarried daughters will have equal share and the family of the deceased son (wife, sons and daughters) will get a unit of that deceased son. If the pensioner has two sons and two daughters, all of them, including family of deceased son, are entitled to the share in the terminal benefits of the father-in-law after him, if it is not transferred by him to anybody.
Self-acquired property

Pension is also his self-acquired property, which he can distribute or transfer as per his will. Any amount left in pension account becomes part of estate and needs to be distributed among his heirs. It is only request for information not for money. Even if that leads to claim, the court will decide. The public authority should have verified if they doubted instead of rejecting the plea. As per Section 4(1)(b) of RTI Act, salary details of public servants is information to be disclosed voluntarily by public authority. If someone is asking for it under 3 or RTI Act, it cannot be denied.

The Commission directed two CPIOs to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed against each of them for illegally denying the information sought. The Commission also directed the CPIO to provide information sought for within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order.

Dependent’s information
In yet another daughter-in-law’s RTI application a similar issue was raised. The putra vadhu was seeking the details of the pension paid to her father-in-law. She filed a petition for maintenance from her estranged husband, for herself and a minor daughter. The standard reply of the CPIO is that the information cannot be disclosed as it is third party’s private information and that no larger public interest was found in the matter. It is true that the information sought was about third party. But it was neither his personal information nor was there any need to prove larger public interest as per RTI law, because the pension related information is official and in public domain. However, there is surely a larger public interest involved in it.

In her second appeal she claimed that her husband wrongfully stated in his response to her petition in court, that his father was fully dependent on him. She also claimed that her father-in-law who took voluntary retirement from service has given approval and informed the same to superintendent to disclose. The information regarding salary of pension of public servant cannot be considered private information.

As per Section 4(1)(b) the public authority has to disclose on its own the salaries of the staff. Generally salary means and includes the ‘pension’. The pension related information could not be considered as personal or third party information.

The Commission finds that the respondent authority has illegally denied the information sought, without examining that the pension is part of the salary and financial remuneration for the service rendered to public authority, it is connected to his public activity, and hence it cannot be rejected.

(Based on decision in Nishaben Vivekbhai Bhatt v. PIO, Department of Posts, CIC/POSTS/A/2017/180150, on 1st August 2017).