Strange things can happen when information is sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Mumbai police told an RTI applicant that the Bombay Police Manual can be purchased from the market but cannot be provided under the RTI Act. If that wasn’t bad enough, the police approached the Bombay High Court to ‘protect’ its manual and avoid providing it to an RTI application. Finally, four years after the RTI was filed, the High Court declared that the Police Manual is a public document and asked the Department to provide a copy of it to the applicant and he will hopefully get it.
Here is what happened.
On 23 October 2012, Kaustubh Gharat of Praja Foundation asked the Mumbai police for copies of Police Manual in English and Marathi under the RTI Act. However, on 5 November 2012, the Public Information Officer (PIO) denied the information on the grounds that the ‘Police manual is a public document and is available in the market. Thus, the necessary information cannot be provided.’
After failing to procure the Police Manual from well-known publishers and libraries in and around Mumbai, Mr Gharat filed a first appeal on 12 December 2012.
During the hearing before the First Appellate Authority (FAA) on 28 December 2012, Mr Gharat was shown a copy of the Bombay Police Manual. The copy mentioned that this was a “Confidential Publication for Departmental use only” along with the instruction -- “The publishing, reproduction or translation of this book cannot be done without the permission of Director General of Police (DGP), Maharashtra. For any queries or suggestions regarding the same, contact the DGP office, Maharashtra, Mumbai.”
The FAA directed Mr Gharat to contact DGP Office as per instructions mentioned on the Manual and dismissed his appeal.
Aggrieved by the decision of FAA, Mr Gharat filed a second appeal before the State Information Commission (SIC) on 28 January 2013. The State Chief Information Commissioner said that denial of manual does not fit any exemptions of RTI Act and ordered the PIO to provide copies of the Police Manual as sought by Mr Gharat before 16 April 2013 and to provide it free of cost owing to the delay. The State Chief Information Commissioner also directed Director General of Police for Maharashtra to publish the Police Manual and other important related booklets under section 4(1)(b)(5) of RTI Act within a month of this order.
However, on 16 November 2013, the Police Department filed a writ petition in Bombay High Court challenging the SIC order.
Meanwhile Mr Gharat was provided the Marathi version of volume I and volume II out of the three volumes of the manual, but not the English version, since it was “the original copies of police manual.”
After hearing both sides, the High Court in Writ Petition 10731/2013 ruled in favour of Mr Gharat. In its order, the Bombay HC uphold that the Police Manual is not a confidential document and thus should be provided under RTI to Mr Gharat.