This is with regard to “Mutual fund SIPs decline further. Who is to blame?”. Most agents of...
This is with regard to “Super Stocks Portfolio” by Jason Monteiro. Good analysis.
Denying information on the basis that there is no larger public interest is flawed, unless it is first established that the information is exempt under the RTI Act. This is the 16th in a series of important judgements given by Shailesh Gandhi, former CIC that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
The Public Information Officer (PIO) or First Appellate Authority (FAA) cannot deny information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, merely on the basis that there is no larger public interest unless it is first established that the information is exempt. While giving this important judgement, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner said, “The concept of public interest cannot be invoked for denial of information. Section 8 (2) empowers the PIO to provide the exempted information if it is in the larger public interest; meaning thereby that access to the exempted information can be allowed if public interest is served in providing the information”.
“Any refusal of information has to be only on one or more grounds mentioned in section 8 (1) or Section 9. The Act gives no scope to the adjudicating authorities to import new exemptions other than those that have been provided under the Act and thereby deny the information,” the Central Information Commission (CIC) said in its order dated 31 December 2009.
Jaipur resident Mangla Ram Jat, on 22 February 2008, sought information from the Central PIO of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Institute of Medical Sciences regarding the Pre PG Medical (MD/MS) examination 2008. He sought following information...
“Kindly make available to me the complete text of the ‘question paper’, provided by the university to the examinees of the pre PG Medical (MD/MS) Examination 2008 held on 17/02/2008 by the institute of medical sciences, along with standard answer key adopted by the university.”
The PIO denied the information stating that “...the question paper along with the key answer to M.D/M.S Exam-2008, conducted by the Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU cannot be given to you as the disclosure of the same is not favourable in larger public interest.”
Mangla Ram then approached the First Appellate Authority (FAA). However, the FAA also denied to provide information saying that, “...the access of the same is not allowed. In a similar type of case, the decision of the Central Information Commission may be observed (Ref: Appeal No844/ICPB/2007 & No 845/ICPB/2007)”.
Aggrieved by the reply of the PIO and the FAA, Mangla Ram then filed the Second Appeal before the Commission.
During a hearing on 15 December 2008, the Commission observed that the main issue in this case was the non-supply of question papers along with the standard answer key adopted by the University. The PIO said he denied the information based on a decision given by the Commission in the BL Goel Vs AIIMS case.
In the case, the Commission had held: “Regarding Answer Key and the Question Booklet after going through the Committee's report and also the submissions made by the CPIO and AA during the hearing, I come to the conclusion that the AIIMS is taking all precautions in conducting examination in a most satisfactory manner and they have also evolved a foolproof system and it has got several in built checks and by disclosing this information we will not be able to protect any larger public interest. Keeping all these aspects in to account, I fully agree with the stand taken by the CPIO and AA in not providing this information to the appellant.”
Mr Gandhi then reserved his decision.
During the next hearing on 31 December 2008, the Commission said the RTI is one of the most fundamental human rights and before going further, it is desirable to look into the Preamble of the Act and some of its provisions. The preamble reads as...
“AND WHEREAS democracy requires an informed citizen and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed;
“AND WHERAS revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information;
“AND WHEREAS it is necessary to harmonize this conflicting interest while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal;”
The preamble is the soul of the Act and clearly spells out the aims and objectives of the Act, Mr Gandhi said. As per Section 3 of the Act, citizen’s right to access information under the Act is absolute, subject only to limitations prescribed under the Act. To make this right meaningful and effective, citizens are not required to give any justification for seeking information, the Commission said.
Further, in Section 6 (2) of the Act in crystal clear words it is lays down as follows:
“6 (2) An applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him.”
The Commission said, any refusal of information has to be only on one or more grounds mentioned in section 8 (1) or Section 9 of the RTI Act. The Act gives no scope to the adjudicating authorities to import new exemptions other than those that have been provided under the Act and thereby deny the information.
While deciding the appeal in BL Goel Vs AIIMS case, the Commission came to the conclusion that “by disclosing this information we will not be able to protect any larger public interest”. However, Mr Gandhi said, this Commission, after going through the above quoted sections of the Act is of the view that nothing in the Act envisages denial of information on the ground that the information will not be able to protect any larger public interest.
“The test of public interest is to be applied to give information, only if any of the exemptions of Section 8 apply. Even if the exemptions apply, the Act enjoins that if there is a larger public interest, the information would still have to be given. There is no requirement in the Act of establishing any public interest for information to be obtained by the sovereign citizen; nor is there any requirement to establish ‘protecting of any larger public interest’. Therefore, in view of the above provisions of the Act, the denial of information in the Commission's orders are ‘per incuriam’,” Mr Gandhi said in his order.
Allowing the appeal by Mangal Ram, the Commission asked the PIO to provide information before 15 January 2009.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC /OK/A/2008/00860/SG/0809
Appeal No. CIC/OK/A/2008/00860/
Appellant : Mangla Ram Jat,
Respondent 1 : CPIO,
Banaras Hindu University,
Institute of Medical Sciences,