As per Section 6 (2) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, “An applicant making a 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.’’
However, in 2014 a High Court judgment had pronounced in its order that reasons or motives are required to be revealed by the RTI applicant, but withdrew that portion of the order immediately in a week’s time, after the judge realised the faux paus, as it does not apply to the applicant who is seeking information under the RTI Act.
Moving forward to 12 January 2021, the petitioner Har Kishan, who filed a petition in the Delhi High Court after he was refused information by the Central Information Commission (CIC), has been slapped with a penalty of Rs25,000 to be deposited with the High Court. The order states that he has not revealed enough of his personal details and seemed to have an “ulterior motive.’’
The order states: “For the act of the petitioner having concealed the material facts, including that his daughter had applied for appointment to the post of multitasking staff, the petition is dismissed with costs of Rs25,000 to be paid to the ‘High Court of Delhi (Middle Income Group) legal Aid Society’. The said costs shall be paid within two weeks.’’
Mr Har Kishan had filed an RTI application at the President’s secretariat at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, seeking the following information regarding certain appointments for multitasking staff at the presidential estate, Rashtrapati Bhawan. Incidentally, he had previously worked here and his daughter was one of the applicants for the post. So, he sought the following information:
“1. A copy of the notification circular no.a-35011/7/16-admn.
2. Total no of candidates who filled the online application form of MTS (multi-tasking staff) examination, notification circular no.a35011/7/16-admn ,and also provide total no of candidates who appeared in this examination.
3. All the names and addresses of examination centres all over the India where the respective MTS examinations were held.
4. The information regarding the total no candidates as per every centre separately who appeared in this examination.
5.Complete name and address of the examination centres of all the candidates who have been selected for appointment to the post of multi-tasking staff, notification circular no.a35011/7/16-admn.
6. Complete residential addresses and fathers’ name of all selected candidates who have been appointed to the post of multi-tasking staff, notification circular no.a-35011/7/16-admn.”
He was given part of the information by the central public information officer (CPIO) of the President’s office. Unsatisfied, he filed his first appeal after which he got all the information except personal details of all selected candidates (no 6 of his request). The first appellate authority (FAA) as well as the CIC denied information. Since the CIC had not mentioned why this information is out of the ambit of Section 8 of the RTI Act, he sought legal intervention.
Incidentally, Mr Har Kishan had brought it to the notice of the President’s secretariat that there was fraud in the selection process of the candidates of the multi-tasking staff. A committee was constituted to look into the matter and as per the observations in the HC order, the investigations “are stated to have been completed in respect of 10 candidates, who were found to have obtained jobs on the basis of fake certificates, and their appointments have been terminated.’’
However, the moot point of this HC order that has rattled RTI activists is, slamming the RTI applicant for “not providing his personal information and having ulterior motive.”
The HC Order states: “On a query from the Petitioner, it is revealed that the Petitioner’s daughter had also applied for an appointment as multi-tasking staff, in the Presidential Estate, Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, this fact does not find any mention in the present writ petition. A perusal of the writ petition also shows that the Petitioner himself was earlier working in the Presidential Estate on an ad-hoc basis, from 2012-2017.”
“This Court is of the opinion that whenever information is sought under the RTI Act, disclosure of an interest in the information sought would be necessary to establish the bonafides of the applicant. Non-disclosure of the same could result in injustice to several other affected persons, whose information is sought.”
“The present writ petition is cleverly quiet about the fact that the Petitioner’s daughter had applied for being considered for appointment for the post of multi-tasking staff at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The seeking of the above information, especially after the Petitioner’s daughter did not obtain employment, clearly points to some ulterior motives.”
Former central information commissioner and RTI activist, Shailesh Gandhi says, “In 2014, the judgment of the Madras High Court also asked the petitioner, who was denied information under the RTI Act, for the reason. In a week’s time that portion of the judgment was withdrawn as the judge realised his blunder. However, PIOs continue to quote that order in its original form to deny information. The same will be repeated for this order too. In the Subhashchandra Agrawal case, the Supreme Court had categorically said that no reason is required to be given for getting information under the RTI Act. Therefore, the present judgment is per incuriam (carelessly given) and unconstitutional. Courts should be very careful while giving such judgments as it affects the fundamental rights of the citizen under Article 19 1 (a).’’
According to RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, the judge seems to have treated this petition as a regular petition in which case it is compelling on the petitioner not to hide any information. "By penalising the petitioner, the basic reasons and objectives of the RTI Act has been defeated. Citizens are the owners and therefore the rightful custodians of public information. How can you penalise the owner? It’s damaging to the transparency campaign," he says.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)