SC decision marks a watershed in the evolution of RTI

Public Information Officers and Information Commissioners will now take inspiration from the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement and we will see RTI marching forward to bring better governance through transparency and participative democracy

I am very pleasantly surprised at the Supreme Court’s clear pro-transparency stance in its latest judgment involving Reserve Bank of India (RBI), National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) and ICICI Bank. It is also personally gratifying since 10 of the 11 orders, which the apex court has upheld were given by me. I had a worry that since I had disagreed with a full bench decision given earlier, the Court’s verdict would strike down my order. The apex court has seen the merit of my argument why the full bench decision was ‘per incuriam’.
The Court has said: “Because an informed citizen has the capacity to reasoned action and also to evaluate the actions of the legislature and executives, which is very important in a participative democracy and this will serve the nation’s interest better which as stated above also includes its economic interests.” This truly reflects our democratic ideals.
The Supreme Court has upheld the orders for transparency with the words: “In rest of the cases, the CIC has considered elaborately, the information sought for, and passed orders, which in our opinion do not suffer from any error of law, irrationality or arbitrariness.”
After the advent of the Right to Information (RTI) Act this is the first judgment, which clearly accepts the RTI Act in letter and spirit. The earlier judgments of the apex court were not in the same vein.
This now marks a watershed in the evolution of RTI. Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Information Commissioners will now take inspiration from this and we will see RTI marching forward to bring better governance through transparency and participative democracy.
(Shailesh Gandhi served as Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act, 2005, during 18 September 2008 to 6 July 2012. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from IIT-Bombay. Before becoming a full time RTI activist in 2003, he sold his packaging business. In 2008, he was conferred the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Award for civil liberties.)

Meenal Mamdani
8 years ago
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Gandhi. If it was not for public spirited citizens like him, the common man in India would be helpless before the power of govt to do as it pleases.
MG Warrier
8 years ago
By any measure, this is a landmark judgment of the Apex Court and now, it is for the government and enlightened citizens to ‘use’ it in the right spirit, in public interest. The Supreme Court’s observations like, “The facts reveal that as banks are trying to cover up their underhand actions, they are even more liable to be subjected to public scrutiny” should open the eyes of both government and the institutions and by infusing transparency in transactions avoid similar indictments in future. Our legal framework, which has British origin and has not yet been ‘democratised’, insulates masters against action by servants and institutions (both in private and public sector) from litigations by clientele in several situations. Beyond citizen’s right to information, transparency issues in the conduct of statutory bodies and government departments which enjoy certain rights and privileges because of the nature of responsibilities entrusted to them need to be addressed.
The temptation on the part of government to bring in ‘ownership rights’ or on the part of regulators and supervisors to take shelter under provisions of the statute book meant to protect institutions and their clientele from embarrassment in exceptional situations, in a routine manner, should be avoided.
The observations of the Apex Court goes much beyond the issue of parting with information under RTI Act. Without fighting this from a mere legal or prestige angle to protect the image, by falling back on the secrecy clauses, RBI and other institutions need to go by the spirit of the observations by the highest court.
A quick gesture could be to initiate measures to make public, information the central bank is in possession and considers useful for banks’ clientele in deciding their relationship with individual banks. If legal provisions stand in the way, they should be got amended, as ‘ease to do business’ include information about the profile of the institution with which a customer deals.
M G Warrier, Mumbai
8 years ago
Congratulations Shailesh for such clear orders as a CIC . We can only hope for this remarkably good and clear judgement from the Supreme Court will bring in better days for citizens who exercise the right to information.
Free Helpline
Legal Credit