Ruling on RTI Act fit to be struck down

The Madras high court’s ruling that those who seek information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act should give reasons for their request and that the reason should have legal backing goes against an express provision in the Act and the spirit of this law


 Section 6(2) of the Act specifically states that an applicant shall not be required to give reasons for seeking information from a public authority. To ignore this provision, as the court did, is to violate it and the reason given by the court for its ruling is untenable. It has said that “the intention of the legislature is not that such informations (sic) are to be given like pamphlets to any person unmindful of the object behind seeking it.” The court has got the intention of the legislation completely wrong. There is even a belittling tone in the words  ‘given like pamphlets’ and it is unfortunate that the court has used them.The high court’s ruling came in response to an application to the court’s registry for file notings on a complaint against a chief metropolitan magistrate. It upheld the registry’s decision to turn down the demand. The judiciary does not have a good and positive record of response to the RTI Act. It has sometimes thought it is outside its ambit too, even on matters of an administrative nature.

 The Supreme Court refused to abide by the Central Information Commissioner’s directive for disclosure of judges’ assets. It even appealed to itself against a Delhi high court’s ruling that the chief justice of India is a public authority. The high court’s ruling will adversely affect the use of the RTI law to get information not only pertaining to the judiciary but from all departments. Public authorities can now ask for the reason for seeking information and can also declare that it has no legal backing. Disputes about the legal backing of the reason can delay the delivery of information and often defeat the purpose of the law.

The right to information has been accepted as a fundamental right.  No one has to give reasons for choosing a particular place to live in, buying  a particular property or accepting a particular profession. By the same logic there is no need to give reason to procure information from a public authority. The ruling is certain to be appealed in the Supreme Court and deserves to be struck down. It has the potential to erase most of the gains made in the fight for transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities. 

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