RTI Judgement Series: PIO cannot deny information sought under RTI citing other rules or law
PIOs cannot deny information sought using the RTI Act, by citing any other law or rule or ask the applicant to apply under other rules, like the Order XII of the Supreme Court Rules. This is the third 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) cannot deny information sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, unless except under Sections 8 and 9 and ask the applicant to apply under other rules like the Order XII of the Supreme Court (SC) Rules, says the Central Information Commission. While giving this important judgement, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, also disagreed with the decision of the then Chief Information Commission.
“The SC Rules as well as the RTI Act co-exist and therefore, it is for the citizen to determine which route s/he would prefer for obtaining the information. The right to information available to the citizens under the RTI Act cannot be denied where such citizen chooses to exercise such right, as has been done by the PIO in the instant case. The Commission would like to highlight that just as the SC Rules put in place by the Supreme Court are not abrogated, the RTI Act passed by the Parliament also cannot be suspended. If the PIO has received a request for information under the RTI Act, the information shall be provided to the applicant as per the provisions of the RTI Act and any denial of the same must be in accordance with Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act only," the Commission said in its order issued on 11 May 2011.
Gurgaon resident RS Misra sought information from the PIO, SC, on nine queries pertaining to action taken or status report on certain letters and reasons for judicial decisions. The PIO informed that in regard with query nos. 1 to 7, inspection can be done and information/ certified copies of the judicial records /judgments of the Supreme Court can be obtained by moving an application to the Registrar (Copying), Supreme Court under Order XII, SC Rules, 1966 on payment of prescribed fees and charges. The Officer also denied information on query no 9, saying that it is beyond the scope and jurisdiction of the PIO to interpret the law, judgements of the SC or of any other courts, opine, comment or advise on the matters, as it is not covered under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act.
The First Appellate Authority (FAA) upheld the decision of the PIO and asked Mr Misra to apply under Order XII of the SC Rules for inspection of documents and information related to judicial records on payment of the prescribed fee. Mr Misra, then approached the Commission.
Mr Gandhi, in his order said that it is legally established that information requested for under the RTI Act may be exempted from disclosure in accordance with Sections 8 and 9 only and no other exemptions can be claimed while rejecting a demand for disclosure.
Section 22 of the RTI Act expressly provides that the provisions of the RTI Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than the RTI Act.
“In other words, where there is any inconsistency in a law as regards furnishing of information, such law shall be superseded by the RTI Act. Insertion of a non-obstante clause in Section 22 of the RTI Act was a conscious choice of the Parliament to safeguard the citizens' fundamental right to information from convoluted interpretations of other laws adopted by public authorities to deny information,” Mr Gandhi said.
The Commission said, “Merely because Order XII of the SC Rules provide for a mechanism by which certain information may be obtained by the applicant, does not mean that the citizen cannot exercise her right to obtain the same information by taking recourse to the RTI Act (subject always to the provisions of Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act)”.
Order XII of the SC Rules provides inter alia:
“1. Subject to the provisions of these rules, a party to any cause, appeal or matter who has appeared shall be allowed to search, inspect or get copies of all pleadings and other documents or records in the case, on payment of the prescribed fees and charges.
2. The Court, on the application of a person who is not a party to the case, appeal or matter, may on good cause shown, allow such person such search or inspection or to obtain such copies as is or are mentioned in the last preceding rule, on payment of the prescribed fees and charges."
Rule 1 allows only a party to any cause, appeal or matter who has appeared to inspect and/ or obtain copies of information pertaining to judicial matters. However, Rule 2 allows a person who is not a party to the case, appeal or matter to inspect and/ or obtain information relating to judicial matters where ‘good cause’ is shown. In other words, where a person is not a party to a case, appeal or matter, she would be required to demonstrate ‘good cause’ before the court before being allowed to inspect and/ or obtain copies of the information sought, the Commission stated.
Mr Gandhi said, “As per Section 6(2) of the RTI Act, an applicant making a request for information under the RTI Act shall not give any reasons for requesting the information. Under Rule 2, in order to determine what is 'good cause', it is necessary to enquire into the purpose/ reasons for which an applicant is seeking information. This is clearly violative of the statutory mandate of Section 6(2) of the RTI Act.”
Citizens would have to justify any request for information by demonstrating ‘good cause’ under Rule 2 and the ultimate decision whether information should be provided or not would lie with the court. In addition, the SC Rules neither provide for a specific time within which information shall be furnished, any appeal procedure, nor any penalty provisions where information is not provided.
“Therefore, this Commission respectfully disagrees with the observations of the then Chief Information Commissioner and holds that Rule 2, Order XII of the SC Rules appears to impose a restriction on access to information held by or under the control of a public authority, which is prima facie inconsistent with the RTI Act. Therefore, in accordance with Section 22 of the RTI Act, the provisions of the RTI Act shall override the SC Rules,” Mr Gandhi said.
The Bench further ruled that all citizens have the right to access information under Section 3 of the RTI Act and PIOs shall provide the information sought to the citizens, subject always to the provisions of the RTI Act only. “It is the citizen's prerogative to decide under which mechanism i.e. under the method prescribed by the public authority or the RTI Act, she would like to obtain the information,” the Commission said.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC/SM/A/2011/000237/SG/12351
Appeal No. CIC/SM/A/2011/000237/SG
Appellant : RS Misra,
S- 93, New Palam Vihar,
Phase- I, Gurgaon- 122017
Respondent : Mrs. Smita Vats Sharma,
Supreme Court of India,
Read other articles on RTI by Moneylife, here.