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RIGHT TO INFORMATION: EXEMPTIONS – QUICK VIEW.

By Y.SRINIVASA RAO, Principal Senior Civil Judge, Tirupati, Tirupati.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

  1. Introduction
  2. Preamble of RTI Act:
  3. Right to Information
  4. Right to Information and Obligations of Public Authorities
  5. Exemption from disclosure of information
  6. Fiduciary relationship
  7. Third Party Information
  8. Important Judgments
  9. How to clear some misconceptions about the RTI Act
  10. Conclusion

Right of information is a facet of the freedom of “speech  and expression” as contained in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India and such a right is subject to any reasonable restriction in the interest of the security of the state and subject to exemptions and exceptions.” —  People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India – (2004) 2 SCC 476, Also see. Centrlal Board Of Sec.Education (CBSE) vs Aditya Bandopadhyay , (2011) 8 SCC 487.

Introduction:—  “The Right to Information Act, 2005” was promulgated on 15th Feb., 2005 and published in the Gazette on 21-6-2005 for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. As democracy requires an informed citizenary and transparency of information, which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption to hold the Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed; and revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests, including efficient operations of the Governments, with a view to harmonise these conflicting interests, while preserving the paramountancy of the democratic ideal, the Parliament thought it expedient to provide for furnishing certain information to citizens, who desires to have it. See. N. Rajachandrasekaran Vs. The Secretary to Government, Public (Special-A) Department, State of Tamil Nadu (2009) 5 CTC 828 : (2009) 5 Mad LJ 701.

Preamble of RTI Act:— RTI Act was enacted in order to ensure smoother, greater and more effective access to information and provide an effective framework for effectuating the right of information recognized under  article 19 of the Constitution. The preamble to the Act declares the object sought to be achieved by the RTI Act thus:

” An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Whereas the Constitution of India has established democratic Republic; And whereas democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed;

And whereas revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information; And whereas it is necessary to harmonise these conflicting interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal.“

The effect of the provisions and scheme of the RTI Act is to divide `information’ into the three categories. They are :

(i) Information which promotes transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, disclosure of which may also help in containing or discouraging corruption (enumerated in clauses (b) and (c) of section 4(1) of RTI Act).


(ii) Other information held by public authority (that is all information other than those falling under clauses (b) and (c) of section 4(1) of RTI Act).

(iii) Information which is not held by or under the control of any public authority and which cannot be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time being in force.

Right to Information:- It means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to —

(i) inspection of work, documents, records;

(ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records;

(iii) taking certified samples of material;

(iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device, Section 2(j), Right to Information Act.


Right to Information and Obligations of Public Authorities:—

Chapter II of the Act containing  sections 3 to 11 deals with right to information and obligations of public authorities. Section 3 provides for right to information and reads thus: “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all citizens shall have the right to information.” This section makes it clear  that the RTI Act gives a right to a citizen to only access information, but not seek any consequential relief based on such information.  

Section 4 deals with obligations of public authorities to maintain the records in the manner provided and publish and disseminate the information in the manner provided.  Section 6 deals with requests for obtaining information. It provides that applicant making a request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him

Exemption from disclosure of information  :—

While request for obtaining information and disposal of request has been mentioned under Section 6 and 7 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, exemption from disclosure of information is prescribed under Section 8, which reads as follows:

8. Exemption from disclosure of information— (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, —

(a) information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence;

(b) information which has been expressly forbidden tobe published by any Court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of Court;

(c) information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;

(d) information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;

(e) information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;

(f) information received in confidence from foreign Government;

(g) information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes;

(h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

(i) cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers:

Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over:

Provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this Section shall not be disclosed;

(j) information which relates to personal informationthe disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer of the State Public Information Officer of the Appellate Authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justified the disclosure of such information:

Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.

(2) Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923) nor any of the exemptions permissible in accordance with sub-section (1), a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweigh the harm to the protected interests.

(3) Subject to the provisions of clauses (a), (c) and (i) of sub-section (1), any information relating to any occurrence, event or matter which has taken place, occurred or happened twenty years before the date on which any request is made under Section 6 shall be provided to any person making a request under that section:

Provided that where any question arises as to the date from which the said period of twenty years has to be computed, the decision of the Central Government shall be final, subject to the usual Appeals provided for in this Act.”

Section 8 of RTI Act:— Section 8 (1) enumerates the categories of information which are exempted from disclosure under the provisions of the  RTI Act. The  examining bodies rely upon clause (e) of section 8(1) which provides that there shall be no obligation on any public authority to give any citizen, information available to it in its fiduciary relationship. This exemption is subject to the condition that if the competent authority (as defined in section 2(e) of RTI Act) is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information, the information will have to be disclosed. Therefore the question is whether the examining body holds the evaluated answer-books in its fiduciary relationship.

Fiduciary relationship:—

The term `fiduciary’ and `fiduciary relationship’ refer to different capacities and relationship, involving a common duty or obligation. 20.1) Black’s Law Dictionary (7th Edition, Page 640) defines `fiduciary relationship’ thus:

”A relationship in which one person is under a duty to act for the benefit of the other on matters within the scope of the relationship. Fiduciary relationships – such as trustee-beneficiary, guardian-ward, agent-principal, and attorney-client – require the highest duty of care. Fiduciary relationships usually arise in one of four situations : (1) when one person places trust in the faithful integrity of another, who as a result gains superiority or influence over the first, (2) when one person assumes control and responsibility over another, (3) when one person has a duty to act for or give advice to another on matters falling within the scope of the relationship, or (4) when there is a specific relationship that has traditionally been recognized as involving fiduciary duties, as with a lawyer and a client or a stockbroker and a customer.”

Third Party Information:—

Section 11 deals with third party information and sub-section (1) thereof is extracted below:

”(1) Where a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof on a request made under this Act, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by that third party, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall, within five days from the receipt of the request, give a written notice to such third party of the request and of the fact that the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, intends to disclose the information or record, or part thereof, and invite the third party to make a submission in writing or orally, regarding whether the information should be disclosed, and such submission of the third party shall be kept in view while taking a decision about disclosure of information:

Provided that except in the case of trade or commercial secrets protected by law, disclosure may be allowed if the public interest in disclosure outweighs in importance any possible harm or injury to the interests of such third party.”

Important Judgments:—

“In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything, that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. The right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary, when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can, at any rate, have no repercussion on public security.” —- State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain – (1975) 4 SCC 428.

In  Dinesh Trivedi v. Union of India – (1997) 4 SCC 306, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held as follows:

“In modern constitutional democracies, it is axiomatic that citizens have a right to know about the affairs of the Government which, having been elected by them, seeks to formulate sound policies of governance aimed at their welfare. However, like all other rights, even this right has recognised limitations; it is, by no means, absolute.

……………..Implicit in this assertion is the proposition that in transaction which have serious repercussions on public security, secrecy can legitimately be claimed because it would then be in the public interest that such matters are not publicly disclosed or disseminated.

To ensure the continued participation of the people in the democratic process, they must be kept informed of the vital decisions taken by the Government and the basis thereof. Democracy, therefore, expects openness and openness is a concomitant of a free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. But it is equally important to be alive to the dangers that lie ahead. It is important to realise that undue popular pressure brought to bear on decision-makers is Government can have frightening side-effects. If every action taken by the political or executive functionary is transformed into a public controversy and made subject to an enquiry to soothe popular sentiments, it will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the independence of the decision-maker who may find it safer not to take any decision. It will paralyse the entire system and bring it to a grinding halt. So we have two conflicting situations almost enigmatic and we think the answer is to maintain a fine balance which would serve public interest.”

How to clear some misconceptions about the RTI Act :—

The RTI Act provides access to all information that is available and existing. This is clear from a combined reading of section 3 and the definitions of `information’ and `right to information’ under clauses (f) and (j) of section 2 of the Act. If a public authority has any information in the form of data or analysed data, or abstracts, or statistics, an applicant may access such information, subject to the exemptions in section 8 of the Act. But where the information sought is not a part of the record of a public authority, and where such information is not required to be maintained under any law or the rules or regulations of the public authority, the Act does not cast an obligation upon the public authority, to collect or collate such non- available information and then furnish it to an applicant. A public authority is also not required to furnish information which require drawing of inferences and/or making of assumptions. It is also not required to provide `advice’ or `opinion’ to an applicant, nor required to obtain and furnish any `opinion’ or `advice’ to an applicant. The reference to `opinion’ or `advice’  in the definition of `information’ in section 2(f) of the Act, only refers to such material available in the records of the public authority. Many public authorities have, as a public relation exercise, provide advice, guidance and opinion to the citizens. But that is purely voluntary and should not be confused with any obligation under the RTI Act.

Conclusion:— As was held by the Hon’ble Apex Court in CBSE Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay (supra), Section 19 (8) of RTI Act has entrusted the Central/State Information Commissions, with the power to require any public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure the compliance with the provisions of the Act. Apart from the generality of the said power, clause (a) of section 19(8) refers to six specific powers, to implement the provision of the Act. Sub-clause (i) empowers a Commission to require the public authority to provide access to information if so requested in a particular `form’ (that is either as a document, micro film, compact disc, pendrive, etc.). This is to secure compliance with section 7(9) of the Act. Sub-clause (ii) empowers a Commission to require the public authority to appoint a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer. This is to secure compliance with  section 5 of the Act. Sub-clause (iii) empowers the Commission to require a public authority to publish certain information or categories of information. This is to secure compliance with section 4(1) and (2) of RTI Act. Sub-clause (iv) empowers a Commission to require a public authority to make necessary changes to its practices relating to the maintenance, management and destruction of the records. This is to secure compliance with clause (a) of section 4(1) of the Act. Sub-clause (v) empowers a Commission to require the public authority to increase the training for its officials on the right to information. This is to secure compliance with sections 56 and 7 of the Act. Sub-clause (vi) empowers a Commission to require the public authority to provide annual reports in regard to the compliance with clause (b) of section 4(1). This is to ensure compliance with the provisions of clause (b) of section 4(1)of the Act. The power under section 19(8) of the Act however does not extend to requiring a public authority to take any steps which are not required or contemplated to secure compliance with the provisions of the Act or to issue directions beyond the provisions of the Act. The power under section 19(8) of the Act is intended to be used by the Commissions to ensure compliance with the Act, in particular ensure that every public authority maintains its records duly catalogued and indexed in the manner and in the form which facilitates the right to information and ensure that the records are computerized, as required under clause (a) of section 4(1) of the Act; and to ensure that the information enumerated in clauses (b) and (c) of sections 4(1) of the Act are published and disseminated, and are periodically updated as provided in sub-  sections (3) and (4) of section 4 of the Act. If the `information’ enumerated in clause (b) of  section 4(1) of the Act are effectively disseminated (by publications in print and on websites and other effective means), apart from providing transparency and accountability, citizens will be able to access relevant information and avoid unnecessary applications for information under the Act.

The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability. The provisions of RTI Act should be enforced strictly and all efforts should be made to bring to light the necessary information under clause (b) of section 4(1) of the Act which relates to securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities and in discouraging corruption. But in regard to other information,(that is information other than those enumerated in  section 4(1)(b) and (c) of the Act), equal importance and emphasis are given to other public interests (like confidentiality of sensitive information, fidelity and fiduciary relationships, efficient operation of governments, etc.). Indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under  RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information (unrelated to transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities and  eradication of corruption) would be counter-productive as it will adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and result in the executive getting bogged down with the non-productive work of collecting and furnishing information.  The Actshould not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquility and harmony among its citizens. Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty. The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties. The threat of penalties under the  RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the  RTI Act should not lead to employees of a public authorities prioritising `information furnishing’, at the cost of their normal and regular duties.

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