delhi high court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed by the petitioner challenging the Order dated 20-03-2023 passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) to the extent that it has denied access to the copy of agreements entered by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) with the external organization for handling grievance redressal on its behalf. Subramonium Prasad, J., held that the entire contract cannot be a secret and directed that the details sought can be redacted from the agreement and the copies of the agreement, after redacting such portions, can be provided to the petitioner.

The Petitioner filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (hereinafter referred to as ‘RTI, Act’) seeking whether UIDAI has formulated any policies or regulations regarding grievance redressal, whether UIDAI has hired an external organization to handle grievance redressal on its behalf, the number of personnel who have been assigned to the job handling grievance redressal internally, along with their ranks and number of complaints handled by the grievance redressal mechanism over since 01-01-2016.

The Court noted that the UIDAI is a public authority from whom the information is sought and, therefore, UIDAI evidently comes within the ambit of the RTI Act. The contract entered into by the UIDAI with an external organization shall also, therefore, be considered as “information” which will come within the ambit of RTI Act. The contract entered into by the UIDAI for the purpose of handling grievance redressal on its behalf is, therefore, information which can be, and should be, provided under the RTI Act, as long as this information does not fall under any of the exceptions given in Section 8 of the RTI Act.

The Court further noted that Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act provides that information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party is exempted from the purview of the definition of information given under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act. If the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information, then such information can be disclosed, provided that it does not include trade secrets or intellectual property which can have the impact of harming the competitive position of a third party. Thus, the issue under consideration is whether directing the UIDAI to disclose the contract will lead to revelation of certain information which may harm commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property and the competitive position of a third party.

The Court concluded that there is no reason as to why the contracts entered into between the Respondent and the third party cannot be given under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The contracts have been entered into pursuant to the tenders and, therefore, it is necessary that there is a complete transparency regarding the way these contracts are awarded. The Petitioner has not sought for the details of the individuals which the external organization would be handling. However, a reading of Regulation 3(2)(m) mandates that the security policy may provide for the requirement for entering into information disclosure agreements with the personnel.

The Court opined that all the agreements entered into between the UIDAI and the external organisations which were engaged in handling grievance redressal mechanism of the UIDAI can be provided excepting the non-disclosure agreements entered into with the personnel and also the details of individuals who will be covered under the agreement. The confidentiality is to be maintained by the agencies only for the purpose of ensuring that the details of the individuals are not revealed to a third party. Thus, the entire contract need not be kept a secret and there is nothing inappropriate in disclosing of the agreements more so when the recent trend is to encourage public participation in such ventures.

[Prashant Reddy T v CPIO, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 6218, decided on 05-10-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. N. Sai Vinod, Advocate for petitioner

Mr. Purushottam Sharma Tripathi and Mr. Ravi Chandra Prakash, Advocates for respondent

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