Public Information Officers who deliberately deny information should be shown the doors observes Madras High Court
In a boost to furthering the impact of the Right to Information (RTI) act, Justice S Vaidyanathan of the Madras High Court has ruled that Public Information Officers (PIO) who deliberately and tactfully deny information are unfit to hold office of a PIO and must be shown the door says a report by Live Law
In a recent judgement in the case of Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) vs P. Muthian, Justice Vaidyanathan observed, “Such Officers must be taught a lesson and in my view, they are unfit to hold the post of Public Information Officer or any other post in connection with the discharge of duties under RTI Act and they should be shown the doors, so that it will be a lesson for other Officers to act in accordance with the terms of the Act, failing which they may also face the similar or more consequences.”
This case was originally in connection with an RTI filed by a retired Deputy Collector P Muthian who asked the TNPSC for the following details
a) Total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;
b) Number of seats allocated to the Backward Community out of the total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;
c) Number of seats allocated to the Most Backward Community out of the total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;
d) Out of seats allocated to the Backward Community, the list of the selected candidates from the sub-castes of Muthuraja and Muthriyar;
e) Out of seat allocated to the Most Backward Community, the list of selected candidates from the sub-castes Ambalakarar;
f) Out of seat allocated to the Most Backward Community, the list of selected candidates from Vanniya Kula Shatriar sub-castes (Vanniyar, Vanniya, Vanniya Gounder, Kandar, Padayachi
Palli and Agni Kular Shathriar)."
The TNPSC however in their response to the High Court mentioned that they had shared the information for queries from a to c but had refused to share information pertaining to d, e and f since that would amount to an invasion of privacy of the individuals and also create communal discontent and strife.
In its response to the high court, the commission observed, “TNPSC being a Constitutional Functionary, has moral obligation to maintain confidentiality and in the event of furnishing of the details to the respondent, it would harm the interest of third parties and the details regarding caste-wise breakup of the selected candidates got nothing to do with the public activity and such disclosure would amount to invasion of the privacy of individuals, apart from creation of communal discontent and strife”
The court however in its judgement disagreed and said, “The contention of TNPSC that the details sought for by the respondent are not at all warranted and that it would amount to invasion of privacy, cannot be accepted, especially when the selection itself is based on caste wise quota”
It further observed, “When the general list itself has already been published for public view, as stated in the petition, there is nothing wrong in disclosing the details to the respondent. In the list, the details of caste, including sub-caste have to be necessarily mentioned and the contention that such revelation would create communal disharmony is not acceptable.”
Calling the commission’s apprehension illusionary and imaginary, the court said if they were really concerned about the disharmony that would arise due to revealing caste and other sub-caste details, “then the TNPSC and the Government, they should think of abolishing the quota system as well as removal of column regarding caste particulars in the school certificate itself, so that the people of Tamil Nadu could stand united under one roof irrespective of caste, creed, religion, etc. at least in the year 2050 and our State will be a model State for the whole of the country.”
The court further observed that the TNPSC PIO’s refusal to share information under clause 8(1)(d) of the RTI act was wholly unjustified since that clause related to commercial confidence, trade secrets, etc., and it does not strictly prohibit the authority concerned from providing such details, as divulging of caste details.
Upholding the Tamil Nadu Information Commission’s (TNIC) ruling, the court was of the opinion that,” the Second Appellate Authority has rightly passed the order, holding that every citizen is entitled to transparent view of the functioning of public authorities and the trepidation shown by the Public Authority with regard to the demand of such details by others will not be a ground in denying details to public in contra to the provisions of the RTI Act.”
Although, this judgment may seem to be in favour of promoting RTI, senior RTI activist and Retd Central Information Commissioner Mr Shailesh Gandhi had a differing opinion. In a statement to Moneylife, Mr Gandhi said, “While it is commendable that the court had passed an order to share information, the judgement itself doesn’t specify other details such as penalties if any were levied.”
Furthermore he added,” It is important for RTI activists to be more critical and to clearly read the judgements of the Information Commissions (IC), High Courts (HC) and Supreme Court to understand the ramifications of the judgements and orders passed.”
Read full judgement here: