The Madras High Court while dismissing a petition filed by Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) with respect to an RTI application, expressed its displeasure on the conduct of public information officers who reject RTI applications mechanically.
The petition was filed by TNPSC challenging the order passed by Tamil Nadu Information Commission (TNIC) on November 20, 2009, whereby information sought by a retired Deputy Collector, P.Muthian was to be supplied by TNPSC within 3 weeks.
Muthian had sought the following information in his RTI application, for the years 2006-08: Total number of vacancies, Number of seats allocated to the Backward Community, Number of seats allocated to the Most Backward Community, Out of seats allocated to the Backward Community, the list of the selected candidates from the sub-castes of Muthuraja and Muthriya, Out of seat allocated to the Most Backward Community, the list of selected candidates from the sub-castes Ambalakarar and Vanniya Kula Shatriar sub-castes (Vanniyar, Vanniya, Vanniya Gounder, Kandar, Padayachi Palli and Agni Kular Shathriar).
At first instance, TNPSC supplied partial information under the first three heads and stated that the rest of the queries were exempted under Section 8 (1)(d) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. The section provides for exemption from disclosure of information and states that “there shall be no obligation to give any citizen – (d) information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information. Thus, the respondent, Muthian, was denied the rest of the information on the basis of this section.
Aggrieved, Muthian approached TNIC, the Second Appellate Authority which then passed the November 2009 impugned order, against which TNPSC was in appeal.
TNPSC submitted that it, being a Constitutional Functionary, has moral obligation to maintain confidentiality and in the event of furnishing of the details to the respondent, it would harm the interest of third parties and the details regarding caste-wise breakup of the selected candidates got nothing to do with the public activity and such disclosure would amount to invasion of the privacy of individuals, apart from creation of communal discontent and strife.
They refused to accept TNPSC’s submission that the information would amount to invasion of privacy since the selection itself is based on caste wise quota. The court held, thus,
“When the general list itself has already been published for public view, as stated in the petition, there is nothing wrong in disclosing the details to the respondent. In the list, the details of caste, including sub-caste have to be necessarily mentioned and the contention that such revelation would create communal disharmony is not acceptable. As long as there is a provision for appointment on the basis of reservation, what prevents the authorities in unearthing those details to the public and when the details sought for by the respondent are furnished, it will throw a clear light / picture as to under what category, a candidate was placed”.
The court held that is TNPSC feels that n-depth description of castes will create communal unrest, “they should think of abolishing the quota system as well as removal of column regarding caste particulars in the school certificate itself, so that the people of Tamil Nadu could stand united under one roof irrespective of caste, creed, religion”.
Upholding the decision of TNIC, the court said, “. This may be one of the rarest of rare cases where the Second Appellate Authority has boldly taken a decision, which does not warrant any interference by this Court, as there is no error apparent on the face of record.”
Criticising the TNPSC’s move to deny information under section 8(1)(d) of RTI Act, the court observed, “Now-a-days, the Officials are used to adopt a tactic answer in mechanical manner that the information sought for is exempted in the light of Section 8(1)(d) of the Act, without actually ascertaining as to whether the information sought falls within the ambit of the said provision.”
The court further said that, “Such Officers must be taught a lesson and in my view, they are unfit to hold the post of Public Information Officer or any other post in connection with the discharge of duties under RTI Act and they should be shown the doors, so that it will be a lesson for other Officers to act in accordance with the terms of the Act, failing which they may also face the similar or more consequences”.
The court, further, called upon TNPSC to submit to the court details on the officials who refused to furnish the said information so the court may pass further orders.
The complete order may be read here.