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Is Governor’s Office Come Under RTI?

Introduction:

“The RTI Act, i.e., Right to Information Act allows any citizen of India for quick search of information on the details of first Appellate Authorities, PIOs, etc. amongst others, besides access to RTI related information/disclosures published on the web by various Public Authorities under the government of India as well as the State Governments.”[1]

The former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, with four other Justices, stated his August 2019 office, covered by the RTI Act. In its 15th year of implementation, Constitution Bench (CB) supports the transparency law in many ways and opens the way for bringing another constitutional authority, namely, the Governor of a State under its ambit.

History:

Twelve years ago, an RTI application was formed by a former Union Defence Minister when he was the leader of opposition of Goa. Though the case was dismissed but the Apex Court is willing to constitute a bench to pass a judgment on this important question of law.

Important questions asked in regard to “Is Governor’s office come under RTI?

  1. Interpretation of the term “information” and “right to information” under the RTI.

It has been clarified that it is a duty to collect information about a private hospital, school, shop, hotel, firm or factory, under lawful authority of course, and furnish it to an RTI applicant in accordance with the Act’s provisions even though such information was not held in material form in its records at the time of receiving the request.

  1. How to interpret “public interest” in the context of disclosure of information

Section 8(1) of the RTI Act contains ten clauses, which contains more than 30 grounds on which information sought by an RTI applicant may be legitimately refused. However, these exemptions are subject to a later clause that requires even such information to be made public if by so doing the larger public interest will be served better.

  1. Inclusion of the “motive” of the RTI applicant as a relevant factor while administering the public interest test.

The CB recognizes that the purpose of the information seeker will have no relevance while making a decision on an RTI application but it will be a relevant factor while applying the public interest test to decide whether exempt information may be disclosed. This despite the CB recognizing the existence of a bar on compelling an RTI applicant to disclose her or his motive while seeking information under Section 6(2).

  1. Whether the Governor is a “public authority” under the scope of the RTI Act

The interface between the fundamental rights to privacy and to access information from public authorities- both being judicial discoveries as Part III of the Constitution does not make a reference to them at all. The CB has itself hoped that some of the tensions in the interplay of these two rights are likely to be resolved with the enactment of the long-pending personal data protection law. But the Governor is a public authority under the RTI Act and holds the information pertaining to asset declarations in his capacity and the office is a ‘public authority’ under the Act and is covered by its provisions.

Critical Analysis:

The struggle for transparency even in the judicial realm is not any easier than it is in the executive sphere, going by the experiences of millions of private citizens. Justice Bhat says “The judicial office is essentially a public trust. Society is, therefore, entitled to expect that a judge must be a man of high integrity, honesty, and required to have moral vigor, ethical firmness and impervious to corrupt or venial influences.”

It must be acknowledged that despite the cautious manner in which the common opinion seeks to strike a balance between citizen’s access to information about how judges are appointed (a point which has been remanded back to the PIO for afresh decision) and the need for ensuring the independence of the judiciary and preventing possible attacks on the reputation of candidates for a judgeship in the constitutional courts, Justice Chandrachud mentions a non-exhaustive list of essential norms in regard to judicial appointments in his opinion.

Conclusion:

A three-judge bench of the Delhi High Court had upheld its single bench order and observed that judicial independence is not a privilege to a judge but a responsibility cast upon him.

In order to bring transparency and accountability, offices of all constitutional functionaries should fall under the ambit of the RTI Act. Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy particularly pointed out the provisions of the RTI Act should be applicable to the CJI’s office and that of the Governors.

[1]https://rti.gov.in/ (last visited on 17th June 2020)

This article is authored by Tithi Aggarwal, Final-Year, BBA LLB (Hons.) student at Delhi Metropolitan Education, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.

Also Read –‘Fake’ or ‘Fact’ – An Information Disorder

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