DISPARITIES IN THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT 2005 OVER THE YEARS
The Right to Information is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, 1950 as recognised by the Supreme Court of India in various judgements since 1975. One such judgment is Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms (2002), in which the Supreme Court of India held that the citizens have a right to know about public functionaries and candidates for office, which is a right derived from the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, i.e., Article 19(1)(a).
The Government of India further extended the power of this right by enacting the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act) in June 2005. This Act empowers the citizens of India to secure access to the information which is under the control of public authorities. This act fundamentally aims to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the public authorities and other related authorities. However, there are exceptions and restrictions to this right under Sections 8, 9 and 11 of the RTI Act.
Section 8 of the Act fundamentally provides that there is no obligation to provide information which may affect the safety, security, and sovereignty of the State, which is forbidden by courts to disclose, may breach Parliamentary (Central and State) privilege, is related to trade secrets, is in the process of investigation, is under foreign confidence, etc.
Section 9 provides that Information Officers can reject a request for information if such request has a possibility of leading to a copyright infringement of persons in another country.
Section 11 lays down the process and conditions for sharing the third party data.
These exceptions have been used by the Indian courts at various instances to deny information to the citizens. In the case of Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat (2020) the Supreme Court of India dismissed the appeal stating that the according to the Gujarat High Court Rules, stipulating a third party to have access to the information of the certified copies of the documents or orders requires the filing of an application stating the reasons for seeking such information. Although the verdict is not inconsistent with the provisions of the RTI Act, it lays down a different procedure for the practice or payment of fees, etc. for obtaining information.
The case further states that, in the absence of inherent inconsistency between the provisions of the RTI Act and other law, overriding effect of RTI Act would not apply and to access the information of the certified copies on the judicial side, the mechanism provided under the High Court Rules needs to be followed. Therefore, the provisions of the RTI Act seem to become weak.
Apart from denying information to the citizens by applying Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act, the appeal system for exercising RTI seems to be distorted. In the case of an appellant named R. B. Patil, his second appeal was rejected on relying on court orders, one of which was given by Calcutta High Court in Metropolitan Cooperative Housing Society Ltd.& anr Petitioners v/s The State Information Commission & Ors wherein the second appeal was not allowed since the order in the first appeal was in favour of the applicant.
R. B. Patil received an order in his favour by the First Appellate Authority (FAA), but he did not receive any information. Therefore, he filed a second appeal. However, relying on the above-mentioned order, the Brihanmumbai bench of the Maharashtra State Information Commission (MSIC) rejected the second appeal.
This dismissal of the second appeal is nothing less than denying information in the first place. The bench was following the court orders but while doing so the main purpose of RTI Act was forgotten. Therefore, the Courts and the Government must provide a solution or a mechanism to accommodate the instances when citizens do not receive adequate information despite an order given in their favour by the Information Commission or the First Appellate Authority. It is important to remove these disparities in order to grant the right vested in citizens through the RTI Act and the Constitution.