Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: S. Vaidyanathan, J., observed that,

“Officials adopting a tactic answer in a mechanical manner that the information sought for is exempted in the light of Section 8(1)(d) of the Act, without actually ascertaining as to whether the information sought falls within the ambit of the said provision should be shown doors.”

Petition was filed challenging the order passed by the respondent by which information sought for by the respondent was directed to be supplied free of cost within 3 weeks.

The main duty of the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission is to conduct examinations and make selections to the services of the State in addition to the allied functions of extension of consultation in respect of disciplinary matters, recruitment methods, etc.

The following information was sought:

a) Total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;

b) Number of seats allocated to the Backward Community out of the total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;

c) Number of seats allocated to the Most Backward Community out of the total number of vacancies called for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008;

d) Out of seats allocated to the Backward Community, the list of the selected candidates from the sub-castes of Muthuraja and Muthriyar;

e) Out of seat allocated to the Most Backward Community, the list of selected candidates from the sub-castes Ambalakarar;

f) Out of seat allocated to the Most Backward Community, the list of selected candidates from Vanniya Kula Shatriar sub-castes (Vanniyar, Vanniya, Vanniya Gounder, Kandar, Padayachi Palli and Agni Kular Shathriar).”

TNPSC replied that queries. ‘d’ to ‘f’ were exempted under Section 8(1)(d) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

On being aggrieved by the above-stated reply, the respondent approached the Tamil Nadu Information Commission wherein the impugned order was passed.

TNPSC submitted that being a Constitutional Functionary, it has a moral obligation to maintain confidentiality and in the event of furnishing of the details to the respondent, it would harm the interest of the third parties and the details regarding caste-wise breakup of the selected candidates got nothing to do with the public activity and such disclosure would amount to an invasion of the privacy of individuals, apart from the creation of communal discontent and strife.

It was stated that State has stopped the sporting of the caste behind the names of persons and at the time of publication of result, TNPSC used to indicate only the Class of candidates and not otherwise. Therefore, the direction to furnish such details, issued by TNIC is highly unsustainable and untenable.

Caste-Wise Breakup

Bench on perusal of the above stated that when the selection itself is based on caste wise quota, it cannot be accepted that it would amount to the invasion of privacy.

Disclosure of caste wise breakup will certainly inure to the benefit of candidates to ascertain as to whether they actually fall under the reservation quota or not.

Further, the Court added that as long as there is a provision for appointment on the basis of reservation, which prevents the authorities from unearthing those details to the public and when the details sought for by the respondent are furnished, it will throw a clear light/picture as to under what category, a candidate was placed.

A reading of Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act shows that it relates to commercial confidence, trade secrets, etc., and it does not strictly prohibit the authority concerned from providing such details, as divulging of caste details will surely be beneficial to candidates to doubly ascertain either about their induction or rejection and as such.

Transparent View

Hence the decision of the Second Appellate Authority holding that every citizen is entitled to a transparent view of the functioning of public authorities and the trepidation shown by the Public Authority with regard to the demand of such details by others will not be ground in denying details to the public in contra to the provisions of the RTI Act.

Supreme Court’s decision in State of U.P. v. Raj Narain, (1975) 4 SCC 428 vividly discussed the power of the Court to direct production of the document and under what circumstances, a privilege can be claimed as contained under contemplated under Sections 123 and 162 of the Evidence Act.

“…While discussing the issue, it was specifically held that the people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in public way by their public functionaries.”

Mere Pendency 

Bench added that nowadays, the Officials are used to adopt a tactic answer in a mechanical manner that the information sought for is exempted in the light of Section 8(1)(d) of the Act, without actually ascertaining as to whether the information sought falls within the ambit of the said provision.

Officers using the above-said tactic should be taught a lesson as they are unfit to hold the post of Public Information Officer or any other post in connection with the discharge of duties under the RTI Act and they should be shown the doors.

Court directed TNPSC to furnish the details to the respondent within a period of 1 month. TNPSC shall also ascertain the names of the Officials who have failed to discharge their official duties as adumbrated under the RTI Act, 2005.

The compliance report for the above-stated directions has been called for on 14-10-2020. [Tamil Nadu Public Sevice Commission v. P. Muthian, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 2167, decided on 7-09-2020]