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Exemptions under Right to Information Act, 2005

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“Notwithstanding transparency of governance, certain information’s have been exempted from disclosure under the rights to information Act, 2005.” Discuss the relevant provisions and limitations on disclosure of information. UPSC 2017.


Right to information under RTI Act 2005 is not absolute, it can be legitimately restricted in exceptional circumstances.


In the case of Rakesh Sanghi v. International Advanced Centre for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials, Hyderabad,wherein the CIC held that the citizen’s right to seek information is not absolute but is conditioned by the Government’s right to invoke exemptions, wherever such exemption applicable. CIC noted that no canon of transparency or public interest would justify that Research and technological Institutions part with their research data or vital information without expecting to benefit tangibly or intangibly from such exchange/disclosure.


Section 8 and 9 of the Act enumerate the categories of information which are exempt from disclosure.


Section 8(1) lists all of the exemptions:

(a) information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the security, sovereignty and integrity of India;

(b) information which may constitute contempt of court;

(c) information that would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;

(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;

(e) information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;

(f) information received in confidence from foreign government;

(g) information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person;

(h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

(i) cabinet papers including records of deliberations, which come under the specified exemptions;

(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has not relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy.


Section 8(2) Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923) nor any of the exemptions permissible in accordance with sub-section (1), a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests


Section 24 read with Schedule 2 contains the 22 organizations names of the Intelligence and Security organizations which are exempt from the purview of the Act. However, these agencies do not enjoy absolute immunity. These agencies have to provide information regarding any allegation of corruption or act of human right violation sought by citizens.


Discuss the rationale of exemption to disclosure of information endangering life and the information regarding criminal trial and criminal investigation provided under the Right to Information Act, 2005 in the light of decided cases. UPSC 2020.


Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act : If the disclosure would endanger the life and physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes, then public authority is exempted from disclosure of such information.

  • Meaning of LIFE under Article 21 is given an expansive and liberal construction such as to include, the right to live with dignity, right to shelter, right to basic needs and even the right to reputation. This meaning is applicable for section 8(1)(g) the RTI Act.

  • ‘PHYSICAL SAFETY’ means the likelihood of assault to physical existence of a person.

  • Information putting an individual's safety or liberty at risk, e.g., the identity of people who blow the whistle on corruption inside their organization should be protected, because otherwise they may be targeted for discrimination or even violence.

CASE LAWS :

  1. In CENTRAL BOARD OF SECONDARY EDUCATION AND ANR. V. ADITYA BANDOPADHYAY AND ORS, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that access to evaluated copies can be allowed only to the extent of answer-book which does not contain any information or signature or initials of the examiners/coordinators/ scrutinizers/head examiners disclosing their identity.

  2. In BIHAR PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION V. SAIYED HUSSAIN ABBAS RIZWI, marks obtained by the a person can be disclosed but the disclosure of individual names and marks they awarded would be hardly hold relevancy either to the concept of transparency or for proper exercise of the right to information within the limitation of the Act.


Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act : Public authority is not under obligation to furnish information that would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

  • Definition of “investigation‟ under CrPC can be applicable for RTI Act also. It would mean all actions of law enforcement, disciplinary proceedings, enquiries, adjudications and so on.

  • When the investigation is in progress, be information which needs to be protected, such as witnesses’ identities, circumstances being put together against a suspect, etc. cannot be disclosed.

CASE LAWS :

  1. In B.S. MATHUR V. PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER OF DELHI HIGH COURT, the High Court of Delhi has held that mere pendency of an investigation or inquiry is by itself not a sufficient justification for withholding information. It must be shown that the disclosure of the information sought would impede or even on a lesser threshold, hamper or interfere with the investigation

  2. In SARVESH KAUSHAL V. FOOD CORPORATION OF INDIA AND OTHERS, the Central Information Commission has held that documents relating to the departmental enquiry are exempted from disclosure pending departmental enquiry by virtue of Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.





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