In what could be termed as serious blow to transparency regime in the country, a Madras High court ruling last week said a Right to Information (RTI) applicant must cite reasons for seeking information. In the process, the court granted relief to its Registry from disclosing file noting on a complaint against a chief metropolitan magistrate.
A division bench comprising Justices N Paul Vasanthakumar and K Ravichandrababu observed that it is mandatory for an applicant to disclose the objective for which the information is sought. Moreover, the objective must also have a strong legal backing. The HC’s decision is sure to generate a widespread impact on accessing information under the RTI Act.
The bench further added “If information (sic) are to be furnished to a person, who does not have any reason or object behind seeking such information, in our considered view, the intention of the Legislature is not to the effect that such information are to be given like pamphlets to any person unmindful of the object behind seeking such information”.
It is worth noting that the Legislature while passing the RTI Act made special provision for Section 6(2). The Section clearly states that an applicant making request for information need not require citing any reason for requesting the information. But the Madras HC order does not mention Section 6(2) of the Right to Information Act.
The bench also made it clear that its ruling was not against the intention of the legislature. However legislation, more particularly the one on hand, must ensure concrete and effective functioning of the public authority with transparency and accountability. This can be effectively achieved by providing information which is under the control of such public authorities.
On the other hand, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan termed the order as ‘illegal’ and said that it is against both the letter and spirit of the Act.