May 3, 2024

Can the Government Refuse to Give Information Under RTI

Recently, the Delhi High Court dismissed an appeal by the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) challenging an order by the Central Information Commission (CIC). The CIC had ordered them to give information that an applicant had asked for under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI). 

The RTI act lists certain exceptions under which a government body can refuse to disclose information. In this Weekly, we discuss what are the rights under the RTI Act and the exceptions that can apply to them.

What is the Right to Information 

The Right to Information sets out the right of every citizen to access information under the control of every ‘public authority’. The Constitution of India guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) to every citizen. Several Supreme Court judgements have come to interpret this provision to include the right to information. 

Is the right to information a fundamental right?

As an integral part of the Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, our right to information is a fundamental right. In the 1976 case of Raj Narain vs State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court had observed that ‘people cannot communicate or express themselves unless they know’. Therefore, the right to information is integral to Article 19(1)(a). This was also echoed in the Bennett Coleman and Ors. vs Union of India and Ors., (1972) and the Shreya Singhal and Ors. vs Union of India and Ors. (2015) cases, where the Apex Court emphasised that our right to seek information is a fundamental right essential to safeguard participatory democracy. 

What are the rights guaranteed under RTI?

The RTI Act of 2005 lays down that by filing an appropriate application, any citizen can apply to get any information held by a government body. The Act states that any ‘public authority’, i.e., a government body established by the Constitution or a central or state law must provide the information a citizen seeks through an application. 

A citizen can seek information about any records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, electronic data material that may have been under the control of any public authority. A citizen can also ask for information which is otherwise under the control of a private entity but can be legally accessed by a public authority. 

How can a citizen obtain information through RTI? 

Citizens can get information by applying to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the concerned public authority, either through online or offline mode. You can follow our step-by-step guides to know how to file a RTI application. 

When can an RTI application be refused?

Although recognised as a fundamental right, the right to information is not an absolute right and there are certain restrictions as listed under section 8 of the RTI Act. This means the public authority can refuse to provide the applicant with the required information, if it falls under one of the following grounds: 

  • Information that damages the security or economic interests of the Indian government;
  • Information that damages India’s relation with a foreign country;
  • Information that a Court has banned from being published;
  • Information that results in a breach of privilege of the Parliament or State legislature;
  • Confidential information that is received from a foreign government;
  • Information that can endanger the life or physical safety of a person;
  • Information which will obstruct a criminal investigation or arrest of offenders etc.

Why did the High Court dismiss the current petition?

In the current case, the applicant, a former employee, had sought the information related to the year wise income and expenditure of IIFT since its inception as well as the details related to the grants received by the institute. The PIO of IIFT had refused to provide the information citing that it was ‘bulky’. This is not a recognised ground for refusing information under RTI. The applicant appealed to the highest authority under RTI, the CIC to review the PIO’s order. The CIC held that the PIO erred in refusing the applicant access to information since this is not a valid ground for refusal. This was further challenged before the Delhi High Court which upheld the CIC’s order and dismissed IIFT’s challenge.