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No immunity in case of graft, rights abuse

No immunity in case of graft, rights abuse
Highlights

Even police, vigilance and security organisations, though exempted from RTI, have a duty to give all that information that helps in exposing...

Even police, vigilance and security organisations, though exempted from RTI, have a duty to give all that information that helps in exposing corruption and violation of human rights.

To comprehend the intent of the Legislature while enacting the RTI Act specially as regards the said expression, the provisions of the Act, as a whole, are to be read keeping in mind the purpose for which the RTI Act is enacted and it may further be noted that the exemptions cannot be construed so as to defeat the very objective sought to be achieved in the RTI Act, 2005.

A High Court also held that any information which does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the police department, Government of Manipur, cannot be withheld at all

A police officer Phairemban Sudhesh Singh wanted to know about his service details like initial appointment, suspension order, documents relating to departmental proceedings, termination order etc.

The Manipur State Police denied this information as they are exempted under the Section 24 of RTI Act. The case reached the Manipur High Court.

The question was whether the organisation exempted from RTI can still be under an obligation to provide service details, or should they reject every information request en-bloc? Whether service-related information could be treated as ‘information pertaining to allegations of corruption or human rights violation?’

The Manipur High Court made a comprehensive analysis of the issue in Sri Phairemban Sudhesh Singh v State of Manipur W.P.(C) No. 642 of 2015. First of all, it explained the objective of RTI Act.

There can be no dispute that the RTI Act, 2005, is enacted with the avowed objective of conferring a statutory right on the citizens in India to have access to government-controlled information or to seek information from Central government/State governments, local bodies and other competent authorities as a matter of right.

The idea is that it would prove to be instrumental in bringing in transparency and accountability in government and public institutions which would help in checking the growth of corruption. The scope of the Act is wide enough to cover all the Constitutional institutions and subject to exemptions, universally applies to all Public Authorities.

The Section 3 gives statutory recognition to the right to information subject to the other provisions of the Act. Section 8 sets out limitations on the right of access as exemptions from disclosure of information.

Facet of freedom of speech
The Section 24(4) confers power on the State government to exempt any intelligence and security organisation established by it from the purview of the provisions. The Manipur High Court firmly said that the right to information is a facet of “freedom of speech and expression,” as contained in the Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which are the foundation of all democratic organisations.

Fundamental rights should not be cut down by too restricted an approach. Even prior to the enactment of RTI Act, 2005, the expression “freedom of speech and expression” has been construed by the Supreme Court, in a catena of decisions, to include not only liberty to propagate one’s views, ideas, opinions and thoughts but also the right to acquire information.

In other words, the right to information can be said to be a fundamental right subject to the exemptions as contained in Section 8 and 24 of the RTI Act.

The Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, provides that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Act to be read as a whole
To comprehend the intent of the Legislature while enacting the RTI Act specially as regards the said expression, the provisions of the Act, as a whole, are to be read keeping in mind the purpose for which the RTI Act is enacted and it may further be noted that the exemptions cannot be construed so as to defeat the very objective sought to be achieved in the RTI Act, 2005.

The Manipur High Court reiterated in Md. AbidHussain Vs. State of Manipur, W.P. (C) No. 880 of 2014 that any information which does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the police department, Government of Manipur, cannot be withheld at all. In other words, access to such information cannot be denied to the citizens. It has directed the disclosure of the information sought.

In another case, a citizen in Chennai sought for information regarding the number of police officials who were caught during the raid by DVAC together with the list of names, the designation and the address of officials, along with the amount recovered from each officials as well as the details of departmental action taken against each officials,

the details of prosecution launched against the officials under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the status of such prosecution against each officials and whether the persons whose names are furnished were reinstated in service and if so, the date on which they had rejoined service as well as the details of list of action taken by the department to prevent corruption at police station/branches/wings in Chennai city.

In Superintendent of Police, Central Range, Office of Directorate of Vigilance &Anti Corruption v. R Karthikeyan, W.P. No. 23507 and 23508 of 2009, the Division Bench of Madras High Court held on 12.1.2010 [AIR 2012 Mad 84], the Information Commission, directed to furnish the information.

The Madras High Court did not accept the contention of State in writ petition and held that in the event the information required by an applicant relates to the allegations of corruption, the said department cannot claim the exemption from furnishing those particulars relating to corruption. The Madras High Court further held:

In terms of Section 24(4), the State government is empowered to notify in the Official Gazette that nothing contained in the Right to Information Act shall apply to such intelligence and security organisation being organisations established by the State government.

Nevertheless, in the light of the first proviso, such power being conferred on the State government to notify exempting such intelligence and security organizations, it cannot notify in respect of the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations.

As a necessary corollary, the power to exempt from the provisions of the Act is not available to the State government even in case of intelligence and security organisations in respect of the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations. .... As all these particulars (sought by RTI applicant) would certainly relate to corruption, the Government Order has no application to the facts of this case.

Thereafter, the Division Bench upheld the order of the learned single Judge dismissing the writ petitions preferred by the Public Information Officer, the petitioner herein in refusing to furnish the information.

Manual is not secret document
Exemption organisations also need to give certain information under the Section 4. The Madras High Court stated that exempted organization shall comply with Section 4(1)(b)(v). In Superintendent of Police v. M. Kannappan, WP No 805/2012, D Hariparandhaman, J held on 28.12.2012, [2013(292) ELT 24 (Mad)] that a copy of the Vigilance Manual of the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption is “information pertaining to corruption” and thus shall be shared. The Madras High Court explained:

The manual cannot be kept as a secret document. It is nothing but a set of rules as to how the DVAC is functioning. I am not able to understand as to why the DVAC feels shy to furnish the manual. ...Likewise, the public authorities shall maintain the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records for discharging their functions as contemplated under Section 4(1)(b)(v) of the RTI Act.

Section 2 (f) "information"' means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.

On a cumulative reading of Sections 2(f), 4(1)(b)(v), 8 of along with provisos to Section 24(4), High Court viewed that the manual of DVAC need to be shared.

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