[dropcap]C[/dropcap]HIEF Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava while hearing a second appeal filed by one Razaak K Haidar has held that Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is ‘information’ within the meaning of section 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Razaak K Haider, the RTI applicant, had filed an RTI application with the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking an EVM. In response, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) refused to part with the information saying “EVM” does not qualify to be ‘information’ within the meaning of Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Aggrieved with the decision of the ECI, the appellant had approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) against the reply of the Election Commission of India (ECI) maintaining that the EVM is not “information” within the meaning of section 2(f) of the RTI Act. The said Section reads as follows:
“Section 2(f)- “information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.”
During the hearing before the CIC, the ECI maintained that EVM did not qualify as ‘information’ under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act. CPIO, however, admitted that due to oversight, the CPIO vide reply dated May 2, 2018 inadvertently quoted Section 6(1) of the RTI Act while denying the appellant’s request for an EVM in the RTI application.
CPIO tendered his unconditional apology for this lapse and requested the Commission to condone the same. He also admitted that model/samples of the EVM are available with the ECI, but the same are only kept for training purpose by the ECI, and not saleable to the general public.
The respondent (ECI) further stated that the software installed in the machines is an intellectual property of a third party, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the third party concerned. Hence, the said information is exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act
CIC relying upon the Section 2(f) of the RTI Act held: “Thus, the EVM which is available with the respondent in a material form and also as samples, as admitted by the respondent during the hearing, is an information under the RTI Act.”
It added: “The Commission also notes that as per the respondent, the software installed in the EVM is an intellectual property of a third party, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the third party concerned. However, the respondent had denied the information sought for, erroneously, under Section 6(1) of the RTI Act.”
However, CIC refrained from directing the ECI to provide the EVM to the appellant and it noted “….the respondent had denied the information sought for, erroneously, under Section 6(1) of the RTI Act. The Commission, therefore, directs the respondent to provide an appropriate reply, as per the provisions of the RTI Act to the appellant within four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order under intimation to the Commission”.