Section 2(j) of RTI Act defines Right to Information as:
It means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to:
- To inspect works, documents,s, and records.
- To take notes, extracts, or certified copies of documents and records.
- Take certified samples of material.
- To obtain information in the form of printouts, diskettes.
1) To secure access to information under the control of public authorities – Article 19(1)(a); removes speculation and doubts in the minds of the public.
2) To promote transparency
3) Accountability in working of public authority – if the officials know they will be answerable to the public, they will work efficiently.
4) To fulfill democratic objective – rule of the people
5) Informed Citizenry – Right to informed choice, to make an informed decision. Example – Fundamental Duties
6) To Contain Corruption – RTI exposes corruption by bringing to light those not performing their duties.
EXEMPTED INFORMATION – UNDER THE RTI ACT
SECTION 8 provides for “exemption from disclosure of information”. The following are the exemptions:
- Information, the disclosure of which would prejudicially affect sovereignty and integrity of India, security, the strategic, scientific, or economic interest of the state, relation with the foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence;
- Information, publication of which, is expressly forbidden by a court of law or tribunal and disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;
- The Information, disclosure of which, would cause a breach of privilege of the Parliament or the State Legislature;
- Information is related to commercial confidence, trade secrets, or intellectual property and the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the third party unless the competent authority is satisfied that the public interest warrants disclosure of such information;
- The information available to the person in his fiduciary relationship unless the competent authority is sissified that larger public interest requires disclosure of such information;
- Information received in confidence from the foreign government;
- Information, the disclosure of which, would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source or assistance given in confidence for enforcement of law or security purposes;
- The Information, if given, would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
- Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other Officers;
- Any information which is personal and has no connection and relation to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion into the privacy of the individual
- Notwithstanding any of the exemptions listed above, a public authority may allow access to information, if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interest.
Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission &Ors
In this case, the petitioner requested copies of all memos, show cause notices, and penalizations on the third party, i.e., a public officer from his employer. The application also requested details of his investments, credit, and loans from banks, etc. He also demanded the details of gifts he received at the marriage of his son by him and his family. The information is in the respondent’s income tax returns.
Whether the information sought comes under the criteria of ‘personal information as stipulated in Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act?
It was held that all the details that the petitioner is seeking come under the ambit of the Section. In an organization, the acts and performance of an employee are between him and his employer and these aspects are under the definition of ‘personal information. Its disclosure has no benefit for the public interest and harms the privacy of such employees.
ROLE OF JUDICIARY ON DEVELOPMENT OF RTI
For more than two decades, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the right to information as a constitutionally protected fundamental right, established under Article 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression) and Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. The court has recognized the right to access information from government departments is fundamental to democracy.
The Right to Information Act, 2005, has influenced all government organs the judiciary, the executive, and the legislature. As is evident from the pro-disclosure judgments which come not only from the information commissions but also from the higher judiciary.
Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court of India VS. Subhash Chandra Agarwal
- In 2007, RTI activist Subhash Chandra Aggarwal filed an RTI and asked for details of the assets of the judges.
- When his application was rejected, the matter reached the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) and CIC asked for information.
- After that, the matter was put before the Delhi High court.
- The High court said that the office of CJI comes under RTI but it was again challenged in Supreme Court.
- A hearing was held in the Supreme Court in April 2019 and the court had reserved the verdict.
Delhi High Court’s Judgment in 2010
- The Delhi High Court had said in a judgment on 10 January 2010 that the office of the Chief Justice comes under the purview of the RTI Act.
- The Delhi High court said that judicial independence is not the privilege of the judge, but a responsibility on him.
- The High Court rejects the appeal of the apex court as it will obstruct judicial independence.
- The General Secretary of the Supreme Court filed a petition against the decision and now SC has announced its verdict.
The verdict by SC:
- The Supreme Court is a “public authority” and the office of the CJI is part and parcel of the institution. Hence, if the Supreme Court is a public authority, so is the office of the CJI.
- The judiciary cannot function in total insulation as judges enjoy a constitutional post and discharge public duty.
- However, the Right to Privacy is an important aspect and; has to be balanced with transparency while deciding to give out information from the office of the Chief Justice of India.
- We cannot use RTI as a tool of surveillance and; that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency.
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