Delhi High Court: In a petition seeking direction to quash the order of Central Information Commission, Jayant Nath, J. observed, “…where a public authority takes recourse to Section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act to withhold information, the burden is on the public authority to show that in what manner disclosure of such information could impede the investigation.”

Petitioner filed an RTI application on 05-09-2016 under Rule 6 of the RTI Act, 2005, seeking pointwise disclosure of information mentioned at serial no. 5(i) to 5(xxv). It is the case of the petitioner that the CPIO did not provide the correct information in respect of point 5(i) of the RTI application and further misled on other issues. The first appeal was filed by the petitioner on 10-10-2016 followed by a second appeal before the second appellate authority CIC. The grievance of the petitioner is precisely that, the respondent believed verbal submissions of the CPIO instead of the written submissions of the petitioner and allowed them to sustain their stand for non-disclosure by claiming exemption under Section 8(1) (h) of the RTI Act.

Court made a passing remark on the default committed by the petitioner, by not giving the entire personal details relevant in seeking the information so made. However, it decided to examine the impugned order of the CIC only on merits.

The order of the CIC dismissing appeal rested on the fact that disciplinary proceedings, as initiated by CBI, were pending against the petitioner and therefore the matter was covered under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. In light of the said finding, Court referred a catena of judgments based on non-disclosure of the information under Section 8.

  1. Director of Income Tax v. Bhagat Singh, MANU/DE/9178/2007; Court observed in the words, “Under Section 8(1)(h) information can be withheld if it would impede investigation, apprehension or prosecution of offenders. It is for the appellant to show how and why investigation will be impeded by disclosing information to the appellant. General statements are not enough. Apprehension should be based on some ground or reason.” [Reiterated in Union of India v. Manjit Singh Bali, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 10394] 
  2. Bhagat Singh v. CIC, (2008) 100 DRJ 63; Court made a significant observation with respect to the interplay of Section 3 and Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005 and further remarked, “Access to information, under Section 3 of the Act, is the rule and exemptions under Section 8, the exception. Section 8 being a restriction on this fundamental right, must therefore is to be strictly construed. It should not be interpreted in manner as to shadow the very right itself. Under Section 8, exemption from releasing information is granted if it would impede the process of investigation or the prosecution of the offenders. It is apparent that the mere existence of an investigation process cannot be a ground for refusal of the information; the authority withholding information must show satisfactory reasons as to why the release of such information would hamper the investigation process. Such reasons should be germane, and the opinion of the process being hampered should be reasonable and based on some material. Sans this consideration, Section 8 (1) (h) and other such provisions would become the haven for dodging demands for information.”
  3. S. Mathur v. Public Information Officer of Delhi HC, 2011 SCC OnLine Del 2592; is a case wherein the petitioner was placed under suspension pending disciplinary action and the Court therein held, “The scheme of the RTI Act, its objects and reasons indicate that disclosure of information is the rule and non-disclosure the exception. A public authority which seeks to withhold information available with it has to show that the information sought is of the nature specified in Section 8 RTI Act. As regards Section 8(1)(h) RTI Act, which is the only provision invoked by the Respondent to deny the Petitioner the information sought by him, it will have to be shown by the public authority that the information sought “would impede the process of investigation.” The mere reproducing of the wording of the statute would not be sufficient when recourse is had to Section 8(1)(h) RTI Act.”

The Court conclusively said that the impugned order only reveals that a chargesheet has been filed but no reasons are spelt out as to how the investigation might get hampered by disclosing the information as asked by the petitioner. In the absence of the same, Court directed back the matter to the CIC for consideration.[Amit Kumar Shrivastava v. Central Information Commission,2021 SCC OnLine Del 336, decided on 05-02-2021]

Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together.

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