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What is larger public interest


RAVEENA_O

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Most often the Public Information Officers, Departmental Appellate Authorities and even few Information Commissioners are referring to larger public interest, to deny information sought by an applicant. Element of larger public interest does not involve in every information sought by an RTI applicant.

 

The issue involved has wide legal ramifications. Let us consider the object of the Act:

 

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 harmonize these conflicting interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal.

 

Now, there are two conflicting public interests -

 

[1] the right of citizens to protect their commercial confidence, trade secret etc ( the protected interest) under Sec-8(1)(d) OR Sec-8(1)(d) or protected privacy under Sec-8(1)(j)

 

AND

 

[2] the right of citizens to get information on governance and transparency ( the right to information) under Sec-3

 

Both these rights are legally bestowed on all our citizens. Both are conflicting in nature. Therefore, a adjudicating authority has to decide which interest out of these two conflicting interests weigh more (larger), to arrive at a conclusive decision, which is called the larger public interest. Question of larger public interest arises, only when it involves two legal interests protected by law, say, right to access information in possession of the public authorities and the right to protected interests [sec.8(1)(d) & (e)] or right to privacy [sec-8(1)(j)]. Both rights are not absolute or complete. Public interest element sweeps through Section-8(1)(d), (e) and (j). In case of a clash, larger public interest is the determinative test.

 

There is a misunderstanding that if a large number of citizens are interested in a piece of information, it shows larger public interest, which is absolutely not correct.

 

Larger public interest is nothing but balancing between two legally vested public interests (as shown above) and arrive at a conclusion either to disclose or to deny the information in order to maintain a balance between the two public interests - the necessity to disclose such protected information shall weigh more compared to the possible harm or injury which can cause in disclosing such protected interest.

 

Often we find that PIOs, FAAs and even few Information Commissioners are denying information giving reasons that larger public interest is not involved. Such decisions are absolutely wrong. Question of larger public arises only when disclosure of exempted information is required to be decided by an adjudicating authority. To be more specific, the question of larger public interest involves only when disclosure of information exempted under Section-8(1)(d), (e) or (j) is involved. In all other cases, there is absolutely no reason to decide the question of larger public interest for disclosing information to an RTI Applicant.

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