[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Kerala High Court strongly criticised the Government of Kerala for issuing an order exempting the disclosure under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005, of documents or information relating to inter-state matters if it believed it would hamper the interest of the state.
“I must say that I fail to understand how the Government of Kerala could order that ‘all documents/information related to inter-state matters and documents/information which Government feels privy and the disclosure of the same may hamper the interest of the State shall be exempted from revealing to the public even on request under RTI Act’, particularly when, under the Right to Information Act there is a well-defined hierarchy of officers, with the State Information Commission at its head, which is expected to be autonomous and resistant to any pressure from the executive,”Justice Devan Ramachandran said, while hearing a petition filed by RTI activist D. B. Binu challenging the order of the Kerala Government.
Information can be denied only under exemptions under the RTI Act
The High Court further made it clear that information sought by an RTI applicant could only be denied under Section 8 and 9 of the RTI Act, 2005.
“It is disquieting that (the) order appears to be an attempt to influence the various Information Officers and Appellate Authorities under the RTI Act, by dictating that they shall not make available certain types of information, no matter what the mandate of the RTI Act. This certainly is a very dangerous proposition and it is incomprehensible how the Government could arrogate to itself the power to issue such an order, knowing fully well that this is gross affront to the provisions of law, because it must certainly be aware that information sought for by an applicant under the RTI Act can only be denied under the specific instances enumerated in Sections 8 and 9 of the said Act and in no other….,” the judge said.
Officers designated under the RTI Act to act independently
The Kerala High Court also noted that it was up to the individual Information Officers, Appellate Authorities and the Information Commission, to grant or deny such information, guided by the imperatives of the Act.
The apparent attempt of the government to dictate to them, through the impugned order, can never obtain support in law, the judge said. Whatever the reason behind the order and however justified the reason for the order may be, “the incontrovertible fact is that the Government could not have issued this order to pre-empt grant of any information, whatever be its nature.
The court asserted that it could not let the government order under challenge influence or trample the officials under the RTI Act while acting under its mandate.
Notwithstanding the contents of the government order, the Public Information Officers, Appellate Authorities and the State Information Commission “shall only act implicitly in terms of the RTI Act, de hors the government’s order, adverting to the exceptions statutorily provided and nothing more, nothing less,” Justice Ramachandran clarified.