In a second appeal hearing pertaining to the requisition of copies of passports of members of a family, which was earlier rejected by the central public information officer (CPIO) and the first appellate authority (FAA) of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), chief information commissioner (CIC) YK Sinha passed the following order on Wednesday (14th July). “It is evident that essentially the information sought pertains to passport details of third parties, which is exempted from disclosure as per Section 8 (1) (j) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.’’
Earlier, the CPIO too had claimed exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.
RTI applicant Yogesh Malhotra had sought copies of passports of a few members of one Bhola family, as they had allegedly illegally encroached on government land to construct their house, as mentioned during the CIC hearing. CIC Sinha stated that Mr Malhotra “has not been able to justify any overbearing public interest in this matter,” and, therefore, upheld the decisions of the PIOs and appellate authority (AA).
Referring to a high court order against a CIC order, Mr Sinha observed, “A reference is made to the decision of the High Court of Delhi in Union of India vs R Jayachandran WP (C) 3406/2012 dated 19 February 2014, wherein it was held that passport details, copies of birth certificate and copies of records of educational qualification are personal information, the disclosure of which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of individuals, unless there was an overbearing public interest in favour of disclosure.”
As against this, former CIC and RTI activist, Shailesh Gandhi has given several orders, directing the relevant CPIO to provide copies of the passport, certified photocopy of birth certificate, education documents and residential proof certificates. One of the second appeal hearings was that of an RTI applicant Anita Singh asking for the above information of her husband.
Mr Gandhi argued that claiming exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 is incorrect. As per his observations in his order of 1 May 2012, under Section 8 (1) (j), information, which has been exempted is defined as “information, which relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the central public information officer or the state public information officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.”
To qualify for this exemption, he says, the information must satisfy the following criteria:
It must be personal information.
“Words in a law should normally be given the meanings given in common language. In common language we would ascribe the adjective 'personal' to an attribute which applies to an individual and not to an Institution or a corporate. From this it flows that 'personal' cannot be related to institutions, organisations, or corporates. Hence Section 8 (1) (j) cannot be applied when the information concerns institutions, organisations, or corporates.”
“The phrase 'disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest' means that the information must have been given in the course of a public activity.
“Various public authorities in performing their functions routinely ask for 'personal' information from citizens, and this is clearly a public activity. When a person applies for a job, or gives information about himself to a public authority as an employee, or asks for a permission, licence or authorization or passport, all these are public activities. Also when a citizen provides information in discharge of a statutory obligation, this too is a public activity.’’
In one of the Delhi High Court judgements in March 2012, the petitioner was the ministry of external affairs (MEA), which challenged the orders of the CIC that had directed it to provide copies of passports of third parties along with their birth certificates, educational qualifications, and identity proofs. The court had turned over the CIC’s order to provide information.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)