The Right to Information Act came into force in June, 2005 and is considered to be one of the most profound pieces of legislation in India. It is a tool of utmost importance in the hands of the Indian citizens. The act was formulated with the object to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.
Over the years, there have been multiple judgements passed by the courts of India in order to streamline the process under this Act and make it more useful for the citizens of this country.
One of the questions that arose was whether the particulars of an FIR can be disclosed under the RTI Act? The case was Jiju Lukose v. State of Kerala (Kerala High Court, 2014). The case was a PIL (Public Interest Litigation). It sought to seek that a copy of an FIR be uploaded on the police website and that the accused was provided with the copy on the registration of the FIR. The Petitioner had said that despite the FIR being filed, the Petitioner received a copy of it after two months of it’s registration; during that time, the petitioner and his family were unaware of the allegations that had been made against the petitioner.
The Petition further said that because of the Right to Information Act, 2005, every public officer was required to all information recorded by him in the public domain. The lodged FIR is to be put on the police website, where it is accessible to everyone, including persons residing outside India.
It was held that even though an FIR was a public document, and covered by Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, it was not required to be made available to the citizens before the completion of the investigation. But, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, it can be claimed by the Informant and the accused as a matter of legal right. The provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 state that the supply of copy of FIR to the accused is contemplated only at a stage after proceedings are being initiated on a police report by the competent Magistrate.
Unless the police aren’t claiming an exception under Section 8(1) of the Act, they are under obligation to provide for a copy of an FIR if an application is made under the RTI Act.
The Supreme Court has also decreed that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cannot deny information under the RTI Act, using the claim of a fiduciary relationship in the case of Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal Mistry (Supreme Court, 2015).
A really intriguing issue was raised in this case- whether all the information that was sought under the RTI Act, can be denied by the RBI and the other banks to the general public on grounds such as commercial confidence, economic interest, fiduciary relationship with other Bank on the one hand and the public interest on the other?
In that case, the RBI said that the information sought, was exempted under Section 8(1) (a), (d) and (e) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. Also, as it is the regulator and supervisor of the banking system, it is within the discretion of the RBI to not disclose such information to the public.
The Supreme Court decided that RBI does not stand in a fiduciary relationship with other Financial Institutions because the reports of the inspections, statements of the bank, information related to the business obtained by the RBI have not been acquired because of trust or confidence. Here, the RBI and the Financial Institutions do not act in interest of one another.
The Court also observed that RBI is not meant to uphold the interests of individual banks, but those of the public. RBI has no legal duty to maximize the benefit of any public sector or private sector bank, and thus there is no relationship of ‘trust’ between them. RBI has a statutory duty to uphold the interest of the public at large, the depositors, the country’s economy and the banking sector. Thus, the RBI is duty bound to disclose information sought under the RTI Act. Unless a regulatory body is in a fiduciary relationship, there is no reason to withhold information.
It was held that since the RTI Act is enacted to empower the common people, the test to determine limits of Section 8 of RTI Act is whether giving information to the general public would be detrimental to the economy.
In Adesh Kumar v. Union of India (Delhi High Court, 2014), it was held that a RTI cannot be denied by claiming that the information sought is irrelevant.
In this particular case, an FIR had been lodged against the Petitioner during his tenure of service and subsequently, a charge sheet, against the petitioner was submitted. On receipt of charge sheet, the Petitioner applied for information under the RTI Act pertaining to sanction of prosecution against him.
However, the requested information was rejected by the CPIO claiming that there was no obligation to provide the same by virtue of Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.
The Delhi High Court while dismissing the Petitioner’s plea in the case stated that impugned provision prohibits furnishing of information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
However, the Court held that merely, citing that the information is exempted under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act would not absolve the public authority from discharging its onus as required to claim such exemption.
Further, the Delhi High Court in the case has held that whether the information sought by the petitioner is relevant or necessary, is not relevant or germane in the context of the Act, a citizen has a right to information.
Some of the other important cases are Union Public Service Commission Etc. v. Angesh Kumar &ors. (Supreme Court, 2018), where the Supreme Court decided that UPSC marks cannot be disclosed mechanically under the RTI; Vishwas Bhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd. (CIC, 2018), where it was decreed that information cannot be denied under RTI because of the lack of an Aadhar card, and Shri Y.N. Prasad v. PIO, Ahlmad Evening Court, which said that judicial proceedings and records are public records.