Indian Court in Madras Says Requests Must By Justified

25 September 2014

The Madras High Court in India has ruled that applicants must give reasons for seeking information under the right to information act.

The judgment was delivered by Justices N Paul Vasanthakumar and K Ravichandrababu while hearing a challenge to the Central Information Commission direction to the High Court to provide certain information, according to news articles including one at that links to the Sept. 17 ruling.

Setting aside the CIC order, the Madras High Court held that requester B Bharathi had failed to disclose adequate reasons behind seeking the information. The High Court held:

“A person who seeks information under the RTI Act, must show that the information sought for is either for his personal interest or for a public interest. Under both circumstances, the information seeker must disclose at least with bare minimum details as to what is the personal interest or the public interest, for which such information is sought for. If such details are either absent or not disclosed, such query cannot be construed as the one satisfying the requirement of the RTI Act.”

The division bench also said:

“If informations are to be furnished to a person, who does not have any reason or object behind seeking such informations, in our considered view, the intention of the Legislature is not to the effect that such informations are to be given like pamphlets to any person unmindful of the object behind seeking such information”

Reaction Very Critical

RTI activist Prashant Bhushan termed the order to be “illegal.” He said further, “It’s a self-serving order by the High Court in line with a number of earlier orders of High Courts and the Supreme Court virtually preventing administrative transparency of the court.”

M Thuyamurthy, another RTI activist said, “The ruling is shocking. Why do we need to disclose the reason for seeking information? The judiciary seems to be afraid of this transparency law.”

RTI activist C.J. Karira said the judgement strikes a body blow to the RTI Act since its tantamount to striking down of Sec 6(2) without explicitly stating so.

RTI expert Shekhar Singh was quoted in The Hindu as saying, “There are two problems with the order. It is in violation of the law. RTI specifically asks no reasons need be given for seeking information. Secondly, it is also in violation of earlier rulings of the Supreme Court saying it is fundamental right.”

Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative who said the order is “complete violation of the RTI Act.”

“The Right to Information is a fundamental right and it is available to every citizen who is born in India. You are not supposed to give reasons for exercising those fundamental rights. The Right to Information is recognised by the Supreme Court as being part of Right to free speech and expression under Article 19 (1)(a) and also a part of Right to Life under Article 21,” Nayak said.

RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal said the court failed to take into consideration Section 6 (2) of the RTI Act, which says that “an applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information.”

PIOs have quoted various high court judgments in the past to reject or delay information requests and this ruling could also be used for it, said CJ Karira, a Hyderabad-based RTI expert. “If that happens, we can expect a huge number of applicants approaching CIC against the decisions of PIO as the court has not defined the term ‘personal and public interest,'” he added.

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