Termite infested document
Termite infested document
Litigation News

Records eaten by termites: Delhi HC quashes CIC order imposing penalty on Notary under RTI Act for negligence

Aditi Singh

The Delhi High Court has set aside an order imposing penalty under Section 20 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 on a Notary after holding that destruction of records due to termites was not a negligent act. (Meena Sharma vs Nand Lal)

The order was passed by a single Judge Bench of Justice Jayant Nath.

The Petitioner, Meena Sharma was a practicing lawyer and had also been performing the duties as a Notary Public for the last 18 years.

One Nand Lal (Respondent) alleged that his immovable property was transferred by an advocate and the document concerned was attested and authenticated by the Petitioner.

In 2015, he thus filed an RTI application to access the Petitioner's Notary Register and other details from 2008. However, the Petitioner refused to provide any information pertaining to the transaction claiming it to be third party information.

In her response, the Petitioner further disclosed that when he started looking into the old records, which were kept along with the disposed of matters, it was found that some of the records and documents were eaten by termites.

The Respondent, therefore, lodged an FIR regarding the damage done to the records and filed another RTI to get information on notary registers that had been damaged due to termite.

When the matter reached the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), it was held that the negligence was writ large in the case and res ipsa loquitor applied.

The CIC observed that the Notary had a legal duty to protect and preserve records/Registers and if records were eaten by termites, the Notary owed an explanation to the people why she failed to prevent it.

It was noted that the ground of “file missing” or “not traceable” or “eaten away by termites” had no legal base and amounted to breach of the Public Records Act, 1993.

Accordingly, the CIC imposed a cost of Rs.25,000 on the Petitioner in terms of Section 20 of the RTI Act and awarded a compensation of Rs.1000 to the Respondent.

The Petitioner moved the High Court to challenge the order.

The Petitioner submitted that the role of a Notary Public was of confidential nature and the information in respect of notarization could not be revealed to a third party.

Reliance was placed on Section 8(1) (d), 8 (1) (e) and Section 11of the RTI Act, 2005 and Section 126 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872

After perusing the judgements on the issue, the Court observed that it was only where the concerned functionary had not provided information without reasonable cause or for malafide reasons that penalty could be imposed.

The Court opined that the CIC’s conclusion was misplaced as it stated that the Notaries work during difficult conditions and there was no specific procedure prescribed for storing records.

It opined,

“..it is quite possible that termites may have damaged the relevant record. This explanation cannot be brushed aside as being a negligent act..The petitioner has clearly stated that the relevant record has been eaten by termites. This has been stated on affidavit. The petitioner is a practicing advocate with 23 years experience. I do not see any reason to disbelieve the statement made on oath."
Delhi High Court

The Court further noted that except for making bald allegation against the Petitioner, the Respondent had shown any fact which would lead to the conclusion that the version of the Petitioner was incorrect.

The Court thus concluded,

“The relevant records had been destroyed/bitten by termites. Hence, it cannot be said that the petitioner is guilty under section 20 of the RTI Act of having either destroyed information or has malafidely denied the request for information. The penalty has been wrongly imposed.”
Delhi High Court

Accordingly, the CIC order imposing penalty and liability of compensation on the Petitioner was quashed.

The Court however clarified,

".. some sketchy submissions were made by learned counsel for the parties as to whether a Notary Public is a Public Authority. I have not gone into the said issue in view of my above conclusions."

Advocates Kruttika Vijay, Kaveri appeared for the Petitioner.

Advocate Girija Krishan Varma appeared for the Respondent.

Read the order:

Meena Sharma vs Nand Lal.pdf
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