RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] A blow to disclosure norms

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sec 8 RTI

Mains level : Threats to information disclosure

Context

Supreme Court’s November 13 judgment on Right to Information (RTI) reduced the scope of ‘information’ and widened that of ‘restrictions’. 

Judgement

  • The judgement expanded the power, length, and depth of exceptions under Section 8 of the Act.
  • Thus it deviated from earlier decisions that said that ‘restrictions’ should be interpreted strictly and ‘information’ liberally. 
  • The verdict also restricted the understanding of the terms ‘held by’ and ‘under the control’ of a public authority.
  • This makes several classes of information inaccessible to the public. 

Blow to RTI

  • The Chief Information Commissioner’s stature and autonomy were reduced by the recent parliamentary amendment to the Act.
  • Supreme Court judgment amounts to direct instruction to the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) on how not to give information on various counts.

Positives out of judgement

  • It did not deny that the apex court is a public authority and answerable under the RTI Act.
  • Judicial independence will only be strengthened with greater transparency.

Concerns with the judgement

  • Paragraph 59 of the judgement could potentially be used by bureaucrats to shoot down many RTI applications during the first request. 
  • Instead of empowering citizens with greater access to information, the court has armed public servants to kill access requests.

From the past

  • Supreme Court’s 2012 judgment in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner was being used as a precedent by the Department of Personnel and Training and various CPIOs to deny information on records of public servants. 
  • The case was about Special Leave Petition on an RTI request related to the service record and assets of a serving bureaucrat. 
  • The Supreme Court held that such information could not be revealed unless there was a larger public interest demonstrated. 
  • In this case, the court held that the applicant was not able to show a bona fide public interest element and hence denied information to the person. 
  • The November 13 verdict could supersede the Girish Ramchandra Deshpande verdict.

Paragraph 59 of judgement

  • Reading of the aforesaid judicial precedents… would indicate that personal records, including name, address, physical, mental and psychological status… are all treated as personal information. 
  • Similarly, professional records, including… evaluation reports, disciplinary proceedings, etc. are all personal information. 
  • Medical records… information relating to assets, liabilities, income tax returns… are personal information. 
  • Such personal information is entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy and conditional access is available when stipulation of larger public interest is satisfied. 
  • This list is indicative and not exhaustive.
  • The last sentence of this paragraph could become another tool in the hands of public servants to deny access requests.

Contradicting Section 8

  • Provisions for disclosure available under Sections 8(1)(j) and 8(2) of the RTI Act say that personal information can be disclosed if it has any relationship with public activity or interest. 
  • Even if such details have no relationship with the public interest, they can be given if the disclosure does not cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy. 
  • Even if the information causes unwarranted invasion of privacy, it could still be given if the larger public interest justifies the act. 
  • Even if there is no larger public interest, it could still be shared if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in its protection.

Unwarranted

  • Declaring educational qualifications, performance report or disciplinary proceedings pertaining to public servants as being outside the ambit of disclosure was unwarranted.
  • A specific educational degree which is a ‘qualification’ for a post, is also related to public activity.
  • If the cost of medical treatment is reimbursed by the state, the medical record cannot become personal information.

Back2Basics

Sec 8 RTI

Exemption from disclosure of information.

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments