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The Delhi High Court has held that availability of information with another public authority is not a ground to deny the information sought under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act).
In terms of the RTI Act, all information as available with the public authority is required to be provided to the citizen unless it is exempt from disclosure under Section 8 of the RTI Act or otherwise pertains to the organizations that are excluded from the purview of the RTI Act, the Court ruled.
The pronouncement was made by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Vibhu Bakru in an appeal preferred by the Public Information Officer (PIO) against an order passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC). Through the impugned order, the CIC had directed the PIO to enable inspection and photocopy of the relevant files by the Respondent, as per his RTI application.
The Respondent had filed two applications with the Commissioner of Police, Delhi seeking information in respect of intimations/complaints sent by Delhi police to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) regarding unauthorized fresh construction of buildings. While the first application pertained to information from January 1, 2011 to November 26, 2011, the second application sought information for a period ranging from January 1, 2010 to August 25, 2012.
The CIC by an order dated July 5, 2013, upheld the rejection of the first application by the PIO on the ground that the information could not be given to the Respondent as it related to third party’s information under Section 11(1) of the RTI Act.
The CIC further held that such kind of information with respect to details of unauthorized construction is with the MCD and directed the CPIO, Delhi Police to transfer the RTI application to the CPIO of MCD.
The Police have only prima facie information. The authentic information in this regard would be available with the MCD in the present case, the CIC noted.
The second application was however allowed by the CIC which directed the PIO to provide inspection of the relevant files to the respondent.
The PIO preferred a writ petition challenging the second order, stating that it was in contradiction to the first one.
Calling the decision of the PIO denying the information as “wholly unsustainable”, the Delhi High Court held that Section 11 of the RTI Act cannot be read as “a provision proscribing disclosure of information”.
“In terms of Section 11(1) of the RTI Act, in cases where the public information officers (PIOs) intend to disclose the information, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by a third party, it would be necessary for the concerned PIO to give a written notice to the third party. The concerned third party has a right to make a submission either in writing or orally and the concerned PIO is required to keep the same in view while taking a decision regarding disclosure of such information. It is a provision to enable disclosure of third party information subject to certain safeguards.”
The Court also rejected the Petitioner’s contention that the information as sought by the Respondent was “third party” information and hence could not be disclosed, terming it as “unpersuasive“.
“The information as sought by the respondent pertains to unauthorized construction noticed by the police authorities, and in respect of which information had been forwarded to the concerned Municipal Corporation. Such information has neither been provided by any third party nor has been treated as confidential.”
Importantly, the Court proceeded to consider the reasoning adopted by the CIC in its first order of July 5 which was in contradiction to the order under challenge.
In, the July 5 order, the CIC had disallowed the RTI application on the ground that police has only prima facie information and authentic information is with MCD. Such a line of reasoning cannot be a ground to deny information, the court made it clear.
The fact that authentic information is available with another public authority is not a ground to deny the information as sought from a public authority, it held.
“…the petitioner had sought information regarding the properties against which information was sent by the police authorities to MCD. Thus, even though the information regarding alleged unauthorized construction may be available with the concerned MCD, the query as to the information sent by the police authorities would still be justified as, admittedly, be available with the police authorities.
In terms of the RTI Act, all information as available with the public authority is required to be provided to the citizen unless it is exempt from disclosure under Section 8 of the RTI Act or otherwise pertains to the organizations that are excluded from the purview of the RTI Act. Thus, the question whether authentic information is available with another public authority is not a ground to deny the information as sought from a public authority.”
The Court thus dismissed the appeal by PIO.
The Petitioner was represented by Advocate Ramesh Singh, Nidhi Raman and Chirayu Jain. The Respondent was represented by Advocate Manoj Kumar Sahu.
Read the Judgement below.