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  1. ashakantasharma

    Rights of Information - Recognition

    Our Rights to Information was also recognized by the Supreme Court of India four decades ago in State of UP v/s Raj Narain AIR 1975 SC 865 by Justice K K Mathew in the following words- “In a government….where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people….have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way….. The responsibility of officials to explain or to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.”
  2. Critical Analysis of Supreme Court Judgements on the RTI Act, 2005 By Shailesh Gandhi, Former Central Information Commissioner Judgment : Bihar Public Service Commission Vs. Saiyad Hussain Abbas Rizvi JT 2012 (12) SC 552 The main issue before the Court: The applicant had asked for names and addresses of interviewers in an interview board selecting candidates for Bihar government jobs. The Court held that: the Commission is not bound to disclose the information asked for by the applicant under Query No.1 of the application. Our analysis of the judgment: The applicant had in 2008 sought the names and addresses of persons who had conducted interviews for Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) in 2002. This was denied claiming exemption on grounds of Section 8 (1) (j). The State Commission had upheld the denial and the matter was finally contested in the Division Bench of the High Court. The Division Bench upheld the contention of the applicant and ordered the names of the interviewers to be provided. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has done a very detailed and well-argued analysis4 of this matter from which some parts are being reproduced below: “2.1 The Special Leave Petition (SLP) was admitted in March, 2012 and a two‐judge bench of the Supreme Court (the Court) comprising of Justice A K Patnaik and Justice Swatanter Kumar decided the matter within nine months. The Court allowed the appeal and set aside the judgement of the Division Bench. Writing the judgement for the Court, Justice Swatanter Kumar held that BPSC was not bound to disclose any information beyond what was provided already. A summary of the Court’s reasoning is provided below: (i) BPSC had relied heavily on Section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act while rejecting the request for names and addresses and also during the proceedings before the Bihar State Information Commission and the Patna High Court. 1Though BPSC claimed the protection of Section 8 (1) (j) in its petition, it did not press this point during the hearings before the Court. Therefore the Court did not go into the correctness of the Division Bench’s judgement about this line of reasoning. (ii) BPSC changed track and claimed that the names and addresses of the subject experts could not be disclosed as it was entitled to the protection of both Section 8 (1) (e) and Section 8 (1) (g) of the RTI Act. The Court rejected the claim to Section 8 (1) (e) in light of the principles governing a fiduciary relationship recognised by the Court in an earlier RTI‐related matter. The Court ruled that there was no fiduciary relationship between BPSC and the interviewers (subject experts) or the candidates interviewed. (iii) The Court upheld BPSC’s claim of Section 8 (1) (g) of the RTI Act by linking it to Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees protection for life and liberty of a person. It reasoned that the members of the Board are likely to be exposed to danger to their lives or physical safety if their names and addresses are disclosed. “The disclosure of names and addresses of the members of the interview Board would ex facie endanger their lives or physical safety. The possibility of a failed candidate attempting to take revenge from such persons cannot be ruled out,” the Court held. (iv) The Court gave two more reasons for rejecting the request for names and addresses. First, it held that the disclosure of names and addresses of examiners would hamper effective performance and the discharge of their duties. Second, it held that disclosure would serve no fruitful much less any public purpose. The Division Bench of the High Court had earlier rejected the contention of the PIO about applicability of Section 8 (1) (g) by stating: “13. … In the present case, the names of the interviewers cannot be denied for various reasons. The interviewers are visible to the candidates while the interview is being held. They have public egress and ingress to the venue of the interview… 14. To make a comparison with the court/judicial proceedings, vis‐à‐vis an interview; Court proceeding is open and the names of the Judges who are hearing the matter are ‐known to all the parties. When court proceedings can be held in broad daylight and the names of the judges are known to all the parties, why not the names of interviewers be disclosed to the applicant.” As nothing in the BPSC judgement indicates that the Court weighed and measured this line of reasoning of the Division Bench, before dismissing it, in our humble opinion, it is difficult to accept the rationale for rejection. (iii) Third, the Division Bench clearly pointed out that denying information about interviewers could defeat the very purpose of the Act in the following manner: “13. …It is a possible situation that the applicant may have reasons for suspicion that a particular interviewer was on the interview board and his close relation was appearing. Such determination cannot be made unless the names of the interviewer and the candidate who appeared are disclosed. If he denies this information, it would be defeating the aims and objects, the preamble, and the legislative intent of the Act. We cannot countenance such an obstruction to such a laudable Act which is intended to bring about transparency in governance, and root out corruption, in this country. The Judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of A.K. Kraipak and others vs.Union of India and others (A.I.R. 1970 S.C. 150) is an appropriate example to show that one of the members of the Board was himself a candidate for promotion from the State cadre to the Central cadre of Indian Forest Service. If we prohibit the information which the applicant is seeking to obtain, the misdeed as had taken place in A.K. Kraipak vs. Union of India (supra), may not be set at naught.” The Division Bench was clearly referring to potential conflicts of interests that may be identified if the names of the interviewers were disclosed. If not, they would remain hidden under a cloak of secrecy. It is respectfully submitted that instead of weighing and measuring this line of reasoning which is based on a very real case adjudicated by the Court earlier (amounting to material facts justifying the disclosure of names), the Court has rejected it by holding that preventing bias in the selection process cannot be a ground for denying BPSC the protection of Section 8 (1) (g). In our humble opinion the Court has not adequately appreciated the reasoning of the Division Bench which by ordering disclosure sought to uphold the very public interests mentioned in the Preamble of the RTI Act, viz., ‘bringing about transparency in governance’ and ‘containing corruption’. (iv) Fourth, nowhere in its judgement does the Court recognise that the Division Bench had refused to order disclosure of the addresses of the interviewers.” It sounds highly improbable that a candidate, who was not selected in an interview in 2002, would seek the names of the interviewers in 2008 and pursue the matter in the Supreme Court with the intention of physically harming the interviewers. Imagination is being stretched too far if it is assumed that the unsuccessful candidate would harm the interviewers after 6 years. The Division Bench of the High Court had come to a very reasonable conclusion that most probably the attempt was to expose nepotism in the selection process. The Supreme Court ruling has led to a situation where the denial of information under Section 8 (1) (g) has been done by thinking of a remote highly unlikely probability to deny information. A PIO has to merely imagine the probability of some likely harm to deny information. A mere apprehension that some interest may be affected has been dubbed to be adequate to deny information. This decision makes it difficult for citizens to expose corruption and favouritism. Besides it opens the possibility to imagine new ways to deny information by conjuring even a highly improbable harm. Many High Court decisions including the Bhagat Singh case quoted earlier stated that the harm to a protected interest must be a reasonable possibility, not a distant probability. This approach of the apex court of thinking of a remote possibility to apply the exemption is becoming a haven for denying information to the citizens. satyamevajayate.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Analysis-of-Supreme-Court-judgments-on-RTI.pdf
  3. Critical Analysis of Supreme Court Judgements on the RTI Act, 2005 By Shailesh Gandhi, Former Central Information Commissioner Judgment : Inst. Of Chartered Accountants Vs Shaunak H. Satya AIR 2011 SC 3336 The issue before the Court: (i) Whether the instructions and solutions to questions (if any) given by ICAI to examiners and moderators, are intellectual property of the ICAI, disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of third parties and therefore exempted under section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act ? (ii) Whether providing access to the information sought (that is instructions and solutions to questions issued by ICAI to examiners and moderators) would involve an infringement of the copyright and therefore the request for information is liable to be rejected under section 9 of the RTI Act? (iii) Whether the instructions and solutions to questions are information made available to examiners and moderators in their fiduciary capacity and therefore exempted under section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act? The observations of the Court: The Court first held at para 12 that denial of information could not be justified under Section 8(1) (d). It also held at para 13 and 14 that denial could not be justified under Section 9. At para 16 and 17 it held that the information is exempt under Section 8 (1) (e): Para 16: “The instructions and `solutions to questions' issued to the examiners and moderators in connection with evaluation of answer scripts, as noticed above, is the intellectual property of ICAI. These are made available by ICAI to the examiners and moderators to enable them to evaluate the answer scripts correctly and effectively, in a proper manner, to achieve uniformity and consistency in evaluation, as a large number of evaluators and moderators are engaged by ICAI in connection with the evaluation. The instructions and solutions to questions are given by the ICAI to the examiners and moderators to be held in confidence. The examiners and moderators are required to maintain absolute secrecy and cannot disclose the answer scripts, the evaluation of answer scripts, the instructions of ICAI and the solutions to questions made available by ICAI, to anyone. The examiners and moderators are in the position of agents and ICAI is in the position of principal in regard to such information which ICAI gives to the examiners and moderators to achieve uniformity, consistency and exactness of evaluation of the answer scripts. When anything is given and taken in trust or in confidence, requiring or expecting secrecy and confidentiality to be maintained in that behalf, it is held by the recipient in a fiduciary relationship.” Para 17: “It should be noted that section 8(1)(e) uses the words “information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship”. Significantly section 8(1)(e) does not use the words “information available to a public authority in its fiduciary relationship”. The use of the words “person” shows that the holder of the information in a fiduciary relationship need not only be a `public authority' as the word `person' is of much wider import than the word `public authority'. Therefore the exemption under section 8(1)(e) is available not only in regard to information that is held by a public authority (in this case the examining body) in a fiduciary capacity, but also to any information that is given or made available by a public authority to anyone else for being held in a fiduciary relationship. In other words, anything given and taken in confidence expecting confidentiality to be maintained will be information available to a person in fiduciary relationship. As a consequence, it has to be held that the instructions and solutions to questions communicated by the examining body to the examiners, head examiners and moderators, are information available to such persons in their fiduciary relationship and therefore exempted from disclosure undersection 8(1)(d) of RTI Act.”(appears to be a typing error and should be 8 (1)(e). Our analysis of the judgment: ICAI contended that instructions to examiners and model answers cannot be disclosed since they were exempt. Commission denied the information but the High Court accepted the applicant’s right to get the information. The apex court ruled out the applicability of Section 8 (1) (d) and Section 9. The Supreme Court then upheld the denial of Model answers by the examining body to the applicant holding it to be information held by ICAI in a fiduciary relationship. It is interesting to note that in paras 23 and 26 in the CBSE case referred earlier the Supreme Court had stated that an examining body is not in a fiduciary relationship with the examiners or examinees. If an examining body is not holding information in a fiduciary relationship with examiners or examinees then it cannot deny it by contending that the model answers are held in a fiduciary capacity. The court has correctly ruled that the examiners, moderators and head-examiners hold the information in a fiduciary relationship. But that does not necessarily mean that the examining body holds the information in a fiduciary relationship as per its pronouncements in the CBSE case. If a patient goes to a doctor and shares his information, the doctor holds the information in a fiduciary relationship. But there is never any expectation that the advice given by the doctor is held by the patient in a fiduciary capacity. It appears there is a logical fallacy, since the converse of any statement is not necessarily true. satyamevajayate.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Analysis-of-Supreme-Court-judgments-on-RTI.pdf
  4. Critical Analysis of Supreme Court Judgements on the RTI Act, 2005 By Shailesh Gandhi, Former Central Information Commissioner Judgment 1: CBSE Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay (2011) 8 SCC 497 The main issue before the Court: Whether an examinee's (Students) right to information under the RTI Act includes a right to inspect his evaluated answer books in a public examination and taking certified copies of the same. The examining body,-CBSE,- had claimed that it held the information in a fiduciary relationship and hence this was exempt under Section 8 (1) (e) of the RTI Act. The observations of the Court: Para 18: “Section 22 of RTI Act provides that the provisions of the said Act will have effect, notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time in force. Therefore the provisions of the RTI Act will prevail over the provisions of the bye-laws/rules of the examining bodies in regard to examinations. As a result, unless the examining body is able to demonstrate that the answer-books fall under the exempted category of information described in clause (e) of section 8(1) of RTI Act, the examining body will be bound to provide access to an examinee to inspect and take copies of his evaluated answer-books, even if such inspection or taking copies is barred under the rules/bye-laws of the examining body governing the examinations.” Para 23. “It cannot therefore be said that the examining body is in a fiduciary relationship either with reference to the examinee who participates in the examination and whose answer-books are evaluated by the examining body.” Para 26: “The examining bodies contend that even if fiduciary relationship does not exist with reference to the examinee, it exists with reference to the examiner who evaluates the answer-books. On a careful examination we find that this contention has no merit….. Therefore it cannot be said that the examining body holds the evaluated answer books in a fiduciary relationship, qua the examiner. Para 37. “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 Act should 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 Court held that: The Court ruled that corrected answer sheets were information which should be provided to students who seek them under RTI. Our analysis of the judgment: The Court ordered the information to be provided. It held that it was not exempt since the examining body did not hold any information in a fiduciary relationship with the examiners or examinees. Unfortunately, despite the Supreme Court’s observation at para 18 that the provisions of the RTI Act will prevail over the provisions of the bye-laws/rules, Public Information Officers (PIOs) of most Courts refuse to give information in RTI to citizens regarding various matters saying citizens should approach them under relevant Court rules. They erroneously hold that the Court rules overrule the RTI Act! The observations made by Apex Court in Para 37 hereinabove are unsubstantiated and wholly uncalled for. There was no cause or reason for those observations. It does not befit the Supreme Court to make such disparaging remarks in respect of a fundamental right of citizens. There is not a shred of evidence that RTI is ‘obstructing the national development and integration, or destroying the peace, tranquillity and harmony amongst its citizens.’ To label citizens exercising their fundamental right as oppressors and intimidators is unacceptable. These observations from the apex court have been gleefully picked up by public officials and quoted to curb the citizen’s fundamental right. RTI has been recognised by the Supreme Court as being integral to Article 19 (1) (a) which states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression subject only to the restrictions laid out in Article 19 (2) of the constitution. Section 8 (1) effectively covers these and goes a little beyond. These remarks cannot be explained by any facts and runs contrary to all the earlier judgments on Right to Information. If it is argued that right to information should be related to transparency and accountability and eradication of corruption, it will then be argued that the freedom of speech and expression should be subjected to this test. With these statements the court dealt a serious blow to the fundamental right of citizens. This has warmed the hearts of many PIOs and Information Commissioners, and they are now parroting these lines to deny legitimate information. As for the accusation of RTI taking up 75% of time, I did the following calculation: By all accounts the total number of RTI applications in India is less than 10 million annually. The total number of all government employees is over 20 million. Assuming a 6 hour working day for all employees for 250 working days it would be seen that there are 30000 million working hours. Even if an average of 3 hours is spent per RTI application 10 million applications would require 30 million hours, which is 0.1% of the total working hours. This means it would require 3.2% staff working for 3.2% of their time in furnishing information to citizens. This too could be reduced drastically if computerised working and automatic updating of information was done as specified in Section 4 of the RTI Act. If Section 4 of the Act is properly implemented as envisaged in the law, the number of RTI applications would be less than 50% of the current level. The Supreme Court did not comment on the lack of Section 4 compliance by all public authorities but decided to pass unwarranted and unsubstantiated strictures against citizens using their fundamental right. An extensive study done by Right to Information Assessment and Analysis Group [RAAG] led by the scholarly and respected Shekhar Singh, shows that – 1. Around 54% of the RTI applications sought information which should have been displayed suo moto by the public authorities under their obligations under Section 4; About 20% of the RTI applicants were asking for information 2. Which should have been provided to them without their ever having to file an application or even without using the RTI Act. These applicants were seeking acknowledgement or response to earlier, often long pending, missives, or seeking feedback about, or an update on an ongoing interaction with the public authority. The Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedures, (Thirteenth Edition, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances. September, 2010) mandates that proper replies to all communications from citizens should be sent within 30 days. Thus only 26% of the applications asked for information that was not required to be disclosed proactively, either publicly or privately to the applicants. It would have been appropriate if the Supreme Court had directed public authorities to do their duty as per the RTI Act instead of castigating citizens using their fundamental right as if they were interlopers or terrorists. SAtyamevajayate.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Analysis-of-Supreme-Court-judgments-on-RTI.pdf
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