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Quite often Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act is used by PIOs to deny information to the RTI applicant. However, in recent judgments information commissioners have directed PIOs to disclose information regardless
Section 8(1)(h) of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) is often abused by public information officers (PIOs) to deny information to Indian consumers seeking valuable and relevant information. This section of the RTI Act, states that when the information sought supposedly ‘impedes’ the process of investigation, it cannot be disclosed. However, recent rulings by Central Information Commissioner (CIC) shows that PIOs must disclose information, if such circumstances and contextual background does not impede the process.
Vide order dated 13 February 2013, CIC, Sushma Singh ordered Directorate of Vigilance, Central Excise, Mumbai, to disclose information relating to the nature of complaints as long as Section 10 was selectively applied. The order said, “Commission directs the CPIO to provide information on the nature of the complaint filed against the appellant, without, however, revealing the names and address of the complainant, by applying Section 10 of the RTI Act.”
The full order can be accessed here: http://rti.india.gov.in/cic_decisions/CIC_SS_A_2012_000748_M_103041.pdf
Earlier, RK Gaur filed an RTI against the Directorate of Vigilance, Central Excise, Mumbai, on 1 August 2011, to seek information on all complaints received along with the names and addresses of the complainants, text of the complaint and as to whether the complaints were filed under PIDPIR as also copy of the investigation file of the department.
The CPIO denied information on the grounds of Section 8(1)(h) stating that it would impede investigation. Section 8(1)(h) states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders”.
Even the first Appellate Authority denied information on the same grounds.
This is a common tactic levied by PIOs to stonewall or stymie information without taking the contextual background of the information sought. This isn’t the first time that a CIC has ordered the PIO to disclose information despite ongoing investigation and application of Section 8(1)(h). Earlier, Shailesh Gandhi, former CIC, too passed a similar judgement where, he stated, “the mere fact that an investigation is underway and that assessment has not been finalized is not a sufficient ground for the application of Section 8(1)(h).” The full background of the information relating to the case can be accessed here:
RTI Judgement Series: Information provided by individuals in fulfilment of statutory requirements not exempted under Section 8 (1)(j)
In case you file an RTI and you are denied information on the grounds of Section 8(1)(h), you could quote these two precedents, as long as you contextualize and prove that the information you seek does not impede investigation.