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Exemptions only for core activities

Exemptions only for core activities
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The Manipur High Court in Abid Hussain v State of Manipur, W.P. (C) No. 880 of 2014 decided on 13.10.2015 by Justice Kotiswar Singh made a very fine...

The Manipur High Court in Abid Hussain v State of Manipur, W.P. (C) No. 880 of 2014 decided on 13.10.2015 by Justice Kotiswar Singh made a very fine analysis of information that could be given or withheld by the organisations exempted under Section 24.

It is a comprehensive judgment relating public interest aspects in Preamble to Section 24 and discussing the impact of proviso in Section 24 and also exceptions under Section 8. It presents the issue in a complete perspective.

A Hussain sought information about the recruitment process of Sub-Inspector of Police in the State of Manipur. The Manipur government issued a notification, exempting the Department of Police from the RTI Act, as per its Section 24. Hence, the police denied the information about recruitment process.

The case reached the High Court of Manipur [W.P. (C) No. 880 of 2014] wherein the question considered was whether the petitioner was entitled to that information when the Police Department had been exempted as per the Section 24 and whether there was any allegation pertaining to corruption and violence of human rights had been made by him.

Preamble perspective: The High Court looked at it from the Preamble of RTI perspective. It said: The exclusion of some under Section 24 is to ensure efficient functioning and operations of the government, optimum use of limited fiscal resources, preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information and as such other public interest and to protect such other public interest as clearly mentioned in the Preamble to the Act.

Expression “information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violence” is of too general and of wide amplitude. A balanced and reasonable interpretation of this expression can be done by referring to the Preamble.

In the context of the Preamble, the Section 24 exemption was to protect certain public interests including efficient operations of government, optimum use of limited resources and preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information.

….If any information sought for does not relate to any of these areas referred to in the Preamble but are also relatable to any allegation of corruption and violence of human rights, there is no reason why such information should be withheld, if sought for, the Manipur HC explained.

Sensitive information perspective: Having said this, the High Court looked at the issue from a different perspective, saying: The legislature in their anxiety to keep certain organisations which are engaged in activities involving sensitive information, secrecy of the State,

have sought to keep these organisations away from the purview of the Act by including such organisations in the Second Schedule of the Act as far as Central organisations are concerned and in the official gazette in respect of State organisations. It does not, however, mean that all information relating to these organisations are completely out of bounds of the public.

The Manipur High Court gave an example: “…even though the Central Bureau of Investigation is one of the organisations included in the Second Schedule to the Act, it does not mean that all information relating to it is out of bounds of the public.

If one looks at the website of the Central Bureau of Investigation which is in the public domain, there are so many information about the organisation which are already voluntarily made open to the public. This is for the simple reason that disclosure of these information does not in any way compromise with the integrity of the organisation or confidentiality of the sensitive nature of works undertaken by this organisation.

The purpose of excluding all these organisations from the purview of the Act as provided under Section 24 is to merely protect and ensure the confidentiality of the sensitive works and activities undertaken by these organisations. Therefore, if there is any information which does not impinge upon the confidentiality of the sensitive activities of the organisation and if such information is also relatable to the issues of corruption or violation of human rights, disclosure of such information cannot be withheld.

Similarly, in respect of the police organisations in the State of Manipur, if anybody seeks any information which does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the police department, and, if the said information also can be related to the issues of any allegation of corruption or violation of human rights, such information cannot be withheld.”

It further held: “Therefore, if there be any information which does not relate to the principal or the core function of the organisation which is sought to be protected by including in Section 24 of the Act, but if it can have some reference or relatable to corruption or violation of human rights, such an information cannot be withheld.

It may be observed that the core function of the police organisation is to maintain law and order, security of the State and discharge such activities which are related to and ancillary to these functions. In that context, undertaking the exercise of a recruitment process is not part of the core function of the police department.

It is some function which could be outsourced to any other agency like the Public Service Commission etc. and this activity does not form part of the core function of the Police Department which cannot be outsourced to any other agency. Of course, recruitment of intelligence officials may form part of the core function. But in the present case, such is not the case. The recruitment in issue is the general recruitment process of the personnel of the police department generally.”

Exceptions under Section 8: Even if any information sought for comes under any of the clauses mentioned in Section 8 of the Act, the authority can withheld such information. Disclosure of the marks obtained by a candidate in a recruitment process cannot be said to be hit by any of the clauses mentioned in the Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The HC concluded: “The information sought (about recruitment process of sub-inspector) will not be covered by any of the inhibiting factors mentioned in Section 8 of the Act, nor impinge upon the core activity of the Manipur Police Organisation and if furnished would rule out any allegation of corruption, hence is “pertaining to allegations of corruption”. Hence it cannot be withheld. Recruitment information was finally directed to be given.

From this fine analysis of Manipur High Court Judgment, the inferences that can be drawn are: 1. The public interest aspects mentioned in Preamble are ensured by Section 24; 2. Information about allegations pertaining to corruption and human rights violation is exempted from Section 24.

Such information has to be given by organisations exempted under the Section 24 also; 3. If information sought relates to aspects mentioned preamble, but about allegation of corruption and human rights allegations, it can be given; 4. Organisations which are engaged in activities involving sensitive information, secrecy of the State, have sought to be out of purview of RTI as per s 24.

If information sought relates to this core area of functioning, it can be withheld, and if not, it can be given; 5. Though the information sought is relating to this core area but it pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violation, it can be given; and 6. If the information sought referred to above is hit by any exceptions under Section 8, it cannot be given.

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