RTI Act: Disclosure of Information Is a Norm and Refusal an Exception- P&H High Court


October 23, 2018

RTI Act- In this recent case, the High Court of Punjab & Haryana has passed an illustrative judgment categorically stating that statutory provisions which are inconsistent with the RTI Act, would not operate within the campus, ambit and sphere where the RTI Act operates.

Case name: Shakti Singh v. State Information Commission, Haryana & ors.

In the case, the Petitioner was aggrieved by the order passed by the State Information Commission, Haryana, whereby petitioner was denied information on the ground that the information sought by the petitioner was not entitled to information under the RTI Act and that in view of provisions of Section 17 of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, the Petitioner should seek the death certificate as per the procedure prescribed therein. Here it would be relevant to mention that in the case the Petitioner had applied for the death certificate of his mother.

Aggrieved by the denial of information, the Petitioner approached the High Court which passed an order in favour of the Petitioner and made the following essential observations in the case:

  • The High Court opined that the RTI Act has been legislated by the Parliament with the intent and purpose of ensuring maximum disclosure with minimum exemptions consistent with the constitutional provisions with effective mechanism for access to information and disclosure by authorities. This is a social welfare legislation and is a special law with a purpose to ensure smoother and greater access to information.
  • That the approach, therefore, has to be beneficial and not restricted and enlarging the principle of transparency, especially in public dealing. There are various statutes providing for restrictions and procedures despite that the Parliament being aware of the same proceeded to enact Section 22 in the RTI Act, which gives the RTI Act an overriding effect over the other statutes and law.
  • Section 22 of the RTI Act stipulated that the provisions if the RTI Act shall have effect notwithstanding there being anything inconsistent thereto contained either in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, or any other law
  • In view of the aforesaid overriding provision, the Court observed that other than this Act, the other statutory provisions which are inconsistent with the RTI Act, would not operate within the campus, ambit and sphere where the RTI Act operates. The provisions of this Act would, therefore, have precedence and would for all intents and purposes, hold the field, viz-a-viz any inconsistency with any other statute or law or instrument having effect by virtue of any law except for the riders, exceptions and exemptions from disclosure of information provided for under the RTI Act itself such as Sections 8 to 11 etc.
  • The High Court also noted that the Right to information now has been recognised as a fundamental right by various rulings of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Codification of this right and eventual acknowledgment of this right is the Right to Information Act, 2005, legislated by the Parliament laying down the working mechanism and tools to enforce this right and that too within the time frame as given for ensuring the access to information subject to certain restrictions, protections and riders.
  • That under the RTI Act, disclosure of information is a norm and refusal an exception. In other words, information cannot be denied under the RTI Act unless exempted from disclosure in accordance with Sections 8, 9 and 11 only. Section 22 as mentioned above leads the way to making the fundamental right to information a reality by enforcing it by simply invoking the provisions of the RTI Act.

In view of the aforesaid observations, the High Court held that the order passed by the State Information Commission, Haryana, was unsustainable.

The entire case can be accessed here.

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