Denial of limited request under RTI citing larger picture of security, not conducive to the spirit of the Act

Central Information Commission: In an appeal before the Commission, the appellant had sought copy of the file noting with comments of DGMS (Navy) staff relating to his transfer and other relevant details related to the transfer. However, the information sought by him was denied by CPIO under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act as the documents in which the postings had been discussed were likely to contain information related to other officers as well as likely future employability of officers.

CPIO further submitted before the Commission that posting/transfer of officers is carried out keeping in mind the force levels in operational units/establishments, career progression of officers, operational deployments, experience/expertise of officers etc and the disclosure of information will allow the opponents to deduce the lacunae in their operational readiness and can be a threat to assets of the Indian navy as well as may undermine the security of the Country itself. The respondents finally pleaded that in light of the abovementioned reasons, documents relating to the postings of Navy officers must be exempted from the purview of disclosure under RTI.

The appellant on the other hand pleaded that he only needed to know the circumstances under which his posting was effected also clarifying that he did not need any kind of details regarding other officers. The Commission after hearing both the parties observed that the contentions of respondent were acceptable and legit and at the same time, appellant too had the right to seek the information for him.

Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha suggested the CPIO to explore the possibility of severing the portion where the case of Appellant is discussed in the file noting(s) to which counsel on respondent’s behalf asserted that if disclosure of such amplitude is allowed it will have far reaching implications for it will set a precedent for many such requests being made under RTI turning detrimental to collective interest of Navy Operations.

The Commission finally observed that the reservations of CPIO were far stretched and if the severing of appellant’s document is not allowed, it’ll defeat the spirit of RTI Act. Commissioner went on to say that the appellant had raised only a limited request and it’ll defeat the very objective of RTI Act if limited information is denied citing the larger picture of security and sensitivity of Navy operations. It allowed the appeal with a direction to either black out the extra information or extract the relevant information from the documents for the appellant to CPIO. [Rajesh Batlish v. CPIO Integrated HQ M/o Defence (Navy),  2017 SCC OnLine CIC 1470, decided on 31.08.2017]

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