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The Delhi High Court has held that a public authority under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) is under an obligation to collect and furnish information sought in an RTI application about a private body if the authority is entitled to access that information under law.
The judgment was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait in an appeal by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), seeking to set aside an order of Central Information Commission (CIC) passed earlier this year. The CIC had directed TRAI to collect and collate information sought in an RTI application from Vodafone India, and then furnish it as well.
The RTI applicant, Kabir Shankar Bose, had sought information from TRAI as well as Vodafone India on “surveillance, tracking or tapping” of his mobile number by any agency.
While Vodafone India replied by stating that they are not a “public authority” under the RTI Act, TRAI declined to furnish the information on the ground that it was not part of its records.
TRAI argued that the applicant ought to have approached the appropriate authority under the Telecom Consumer Complaint Redressal Regulations, 2012 to get the information.
Rejecting the contention, the Court held that TRAI, being a public authority, was under an obligation to furnish all the information as defined in Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, including information which can be legally accessed by it from a private body.
Since TRAI has the power under Section 12 of the TRAI Act, 1997 to call for any information from and conduct investigations of service providers, the information sought by the applicant could not be denied, the Court concluded.
“Information as defined in Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act includes in its ambit, the information relating to any private body which can be assessed by public authority under any law for the time being inforce. Therefore, if a public authority has a right and is entitled to access information from a private body, under any other law, it is “information‟ as defined in Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act. Thus, it is obligation on the public authority to get the information from the private body and furnish the same to the applicant.”
The Court thus upheld the CIC order directing TRAI to collect the information sought in the RTI application from Vodafone India and furnish it to the applicant.
“In view of the above discussion and legal position, I found no illegality in order dated 12.09.2018 passed by Central Information commission. There is no merit in the present petition. Accordingly, the same is dismissed.”, it decreed.
TRAI was represented by Advocates Maneesha Dhir, Abhishek Kumar and Sarahsh Gupta.
The RTI Applicant was represented by Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra with Advocates Kanika Singhal, Asmita Narula and Vinay Prakash Singh.
Read the Judgment: