Another blow to RTI, contravenes spirit of the Act
Given the manner in which the Right to Information (RTI) Act has been both used and abused over the years, it is not surprising it should have come under attack from various authorities, including the Supreme Court, who have variously argued the information being sought will be detrimental to the interests of the state or that it is being asked for with an ulterior motive or that it unnecessarily burdens the public authority. Indeed, in what is probably the most famous case involving RTI, the Supreme Court has appealed to itself against an order of the Delhi High Court which ruled the Chief Justice of India was a ‘public authority’ under the RTI and therefore subject to its authority. The government, in the past, has tried to keep file notings outside the purview of the RTI and even tried to overturn the Central Information Commissioner’s order that political parties were also ‘public authorities’.
Given this, it is not surprising that the Madras High Court should rule against a petitioner who had made nearly 50 applications for information regarding, among others, what the rules were for recruiting a Registrar General and whom the search committee constituted. The court has ruled posting a judge as Registrar General by the Chief Justice is within his powers under Article 229 of the Constitution and that no one has any say in the matter. Indeed, the judgment cites various Supreme Court rulings to argue its case. The RTI, says one judgment, is really a facet of the freedom of speech and expression, and therefore is subject to the same restrictions that apply to this, such as in the interests of the security of state. The Madras High Court has argued that since the word ‘right’ is not defined in RTI, it has to be coupled with the object and purpose for which the information is sought. The problem with this argument is that, once public authorities ask for the purpose, it is a thin line dividing this from then ruling on whether the purpose is desirable. Which is why the RTI Act specifically says applicants do not have to give the reason for why they need the information—often, it is after the information is got, and studied, that its worth is determined. As to whether the information—say, on a PSU providing a car for a minister—will be misused, surely that is something that comes into play after the information got is used? And it is up to the authority being petitioned to rule the information is irrelevant. Blocking RTI is a bad idea; indeed, the courts should be doing their bit by expanding the scope of information available through it.