Orissa High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Orissa High Court: A Division Bench of S. Muralidhar and R.K. Pattnaik, JJ. issued a declaratory writ to the effect that the impugned notification dated 11-08-2016 issued by the Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Odisha under Section 24(4) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (‘RTI Act’), will not permit the Government to deny information pertaining to the Vigilance Department involving allegations of corruption and human rights violations, and other information that does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the Vigilance Department.

The instant petition was filed by way of PIL challenging the notification dated 11-08-2016 issued by Commissioner-cum Secretary, Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Odisha under Section 24(4) of the RTI Act, providing that nothing contained in the RTI Act “shall apply to the General Administration (Vigilance) Department” of the Government of Odisha “and its organization”.

The Court observed that Section 24(1) of the RTI Act is similarly worded as Section 24(4) of the RTI Act, with one difference being that the former relates to ‘intelligence and security organizations, being organizations established by the Central Government’ whereas Section 24(4) of the RTI Act pertains to those established by the State Government. However, in both instances, where information that is sought is in respect of allegations of violations of human rights, prior approval of the Information Commission concerned, Central or State, as the case may be, is required. Thus, the legislative intent is to provide information, and not to withhold it, particularly when it pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.

The Court while rejecting the contention of the opposite party that the information that stands protected from disclosure under Section 8 of the RTI Act will somehow straightway become available to an applicant in the absence of the impugned notification under Section 24(4) of the RTI Act, noted that what stands protected by Section 8 of the RTI Act would remain as such and additionally when such information pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations, the proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI Act would have to be considered as well. Thus, it is not as if such information would be straightway made available to a person seeking such information. In processing the request by an applicant seeking information regarding violation of human rights or involving corruption, regard will be had to Section 8 of the RTI Act. That is the true purport of the non obstante clause at the beginning of Section 8 of the RTI Act. In effect, therefore, there is no conflict between Section 8 on the one hand and the proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI Act on the other.

Placing reliance on Md. Abid Hussain v. State of Manipur, 2015 SCC OnLine Mani 129 wherein it was observed that “if there are any information which do not impinge upon the confidentiality of the sensitive activities of the organization and if such information is also relatable to the issues of corruption or violation of human rights, disclosure of such information cannot be withheld. Similarly, in respect of the police organizations in the State of Manipur if anybody seeks any information which does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the police department and if the said information also can be related to the issues of any allegation of corruption or violation of human rights, such information cannot be withheld.”

Further reliance was placed on CBSE v. Aditya Bandhopadhyay (2011) 8 SCC 497 wherein it was observed that “Section 8 should not be considered to be fetter on the right to information, but as an equally important provision protecting other public interest essential for the fulfillment and preservation of democratic ideals.”

The Court concluded that the impugned notification in so far as it seeks to exempt the entire Vigilance Department of the Government from the view of the RTI Act would run counter to the first proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI Act. In other words, the notification insofar as it prevents disclosure of information concerning the General Administration (Vigilance) Department even when it pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations would be contrary to the first proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI act and, by that yardstick, would be unsustainable in law. If under the RTI Act disclosure is the norm, and non-disclosure is the exception, then the impugned notification seeks to take away what is provided by the RTI Act and is therefore ultra vires the RTI Act.

The Court thus held “the General Administration (Vigilance) Department of the Government of Odisha cannot, notwithstanding the impugned notification dated 11th August 2016, refuse to divulge information pertaining to corruption and human rights violations, which information is expressly not protected from disclosure by virtue of the first proviso to Section 24(4) of the RTI Act. Also, information that does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the Vigilance Department, cannot be withheld”

[Subash Mohapatra v. State of Odisha, 2022 SCC OnLine Ori 2014, decided on 20-06-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. S.P. Das, Advocate, for the petitioner;

Mr. S.N. Das and Mr. Srimanta Das, Advocates, for the opposite parties;

Chhattisgarh High Court
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Chhattisgarh High Court: Sanjay K. Agrawal, J. reversed the order of the State Information Commission whereby it had directed the Public Information Officer (“PIO”) of the Chhattisgarh High Court to furnish a copy of the oath taken and subscribed by Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice N.K. Agarwal.

The question to be considered was — whether the applicant was entitled to get the copy of oath taken and subscribed by the Judges of the High Court which they had taken before entering upon their office as prescribed under Article 219 of the Constitution or is it protected under the provisions contained in either Section 8(1)(e) or Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2007.

The applicant had invoked Section 6(1) of the RTI Act and sought a copy of the oath aforementioned. The PIO rejected the application in light of exemption provided under Section 8 (exemption from disclosure of information). The appellant filed an appeal before the First Appellate Authority which was dismissed. However, on further appeal, the State Information Commission passed the impugned order mentioned above. Aggrieved thereby, the PIO filed the present writ petition.

Praful N. Bharat, Advocate made submissions on behalf of the PIO. Per contra, the Shyam Sundar Lal Tekchandani, Advocate, represented the State Information Commission.

Perusing Section 8, the High Court observed: “The conflict between the right to personal privacy and the public interest in the disclosure of personal information stands recognised by the legislature in terms of exempting purely personal information under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act of 2005. Under such exemption clause, the disclosure may be refused if the request pertains to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relation to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.”

Reliance was placed on Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. CIC, (2013) 1 SCC 212R.K. Jain v. Union of India, (2013) 14 SCC 794; and Canara Bank v. C.S. Shyam, (2018) 11 SCC 426. The Court observed further: “The applicant did not disclose any public interest much less larger public interest involved in seeking such information of the Judges in the said application, nor was any finding recorded by the Chhattisgarh State Information commission as to the involvement of any larger public interest in directing supply of such information to the applicant under Section 19(8)(a)(i) of the Act of 2005.”

Holding that the application failed to fulfill the requirement under Section 8(1)(j), the Court set aside the order of the State Commission.[PIO, High Court of Chhattisgarh v. Arun Kumar Gupta, 2019 SCC OnLine Chh 91, decided on 05-08-2019]

Uttarakhand High Court
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Uttaranchal High Court: Alok Singh, J. dismissed a writ petition filed by Sahak Nagar Adhikari, who was Public Information Officer under Right to Information Act, 2005.

The petitioner contended that, a show cause notice was issued upon him which sought an explanation as to why a penalty should not be imposed upon him for providing delayed information. He gave a brief reply of the said notice and administered information to the said officer. Thereafter, State Information Commissioner adjudged the matter and imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 for delayed reply to the notice. He was aggrieved by the said order of the officer and therefore sought justice from the Court.

Mr Parikshit Saini, learned counsel for the petitioner, submitted that impugned order of the Information Officer was arbitrary and patently illegal, hence, was not maintainable. He argued that impugned order was ‘unreasonable’ and ‘non-speaking’, the officer failed to justify the penalty as he gave a brief reply as to why the delay was caused by him for discharging his duties. He relied on the judgment of Supreme Court, in Narendra Kumar v. CIC, 2014 (2) UD 72 where it was observed, “State Public Information Officer has decided any complaint or appeal without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time etc., in that event penalty can be imposed. In the further opinion of this Court, if there was reasonable cause for furnishing the delayed information then Chief Information Commissioner should not impose penalty merely because there was some delay in supplying the information.”

The Court observed that judgment in case Narendra Kumar was not applicable in the aforementioned case, as in the referred case information was not supplied in time because of natural disaster but in the case of petitioner there was delay of one year in supply of the information whereas Act, 2005 mandates to provide information within thirty days. Cause shown by the petitioner for delay in supplying the information was the excessive workload. The Court stated that, petitioner has not explained his excessive work; this was no ground for the delay in providing the information. One year delay in providing information under the Right to Information Act was too high.

It further held that Commissioner has assigned the reason for the penalty. “Providing information after one year that too on filing of appeal in the State Information Commission amounts to denial of information.” Court found no illegality or perversity in the impugned order and directed the petitioner to pay the aforementioned penalty.[Chandrakant Bhatt v. Uttarakhand Information Commission, 2019 SCC OnLine Utt 356, decided on 10-05-2019]