The Madras High Court recently reiterated that informations touching upon the right of privacy of third parties cannot be sought through RTI applications without putting them on notice.
Justice Anand Venkatesh was dealing with a plea seeking directions to the Tamil Nadu Information Commission to provide details with respect to persons who have registered themselves in the district employment office under the special category of Inter Caste Marriage and to furnish the certificates provided by such persons.
The petitioner submitted that since these persons had an upper hand when it came to public employment, the nature of documents submitted by them should be available in the public domain so that the same can be scrutinised by a person who had been pushed back in the employment procedure. He further contended that no personal information was sought for since these documents were in the nature of public documents and therefore there was no bar under Section 8 (1)( j) of the Right to Information Act.
Per contra, the respondents submitted that the exemption provided under Sections 8 (1) (e) and 8 (1) ( j) of the Act, will apply in the present case. The documents sought for by the petitioner would amount to providing third party information and such information could not be provided without making them as parties as provided under Section 11 of the Act.
With respect to exemption under Section 8(1)(e), the court held that the same pertains to information provided available to a person in his fiduciary relationship with another. Since the information sought for in the present case related to public employment, it cannot be said that the information was available to the authorities in their fiduciary capacity. They held the information as a public office i.e, as an Employment Exchange. Therefore, exception under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act was not applicable in the present case.
With respect to exception under Section 8(1)(j), the same deals with personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual. The court opined that in the present case, even though the information sought for is a personal information, it had a direct nexus to the public interest or activity. When candidates register under this special category, other participants will face challenge in losing out on opportunity if the posts are filled on priority basis. The court also held that what right should be brought within the right of privacy, that is dealt with under Section 8 (1)(j) of the Act would depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case.
In the present case, providing copies of certificate of candidates who have registered under the special category would involve revealing about the caste and name of the spouse to whom the concerned candidate is married. Such information would definitely tough upon the right to privacy. Hence, the court opined that the respondents were right in denying the copies of certificate to the petitioner.
A candidate would not want the entire world to know the caste or community to which he belongs since, even today, there is a social taboo on the basis of caste and community. Providing the details of the spouse of the candidate is certainly a private information and a candidate may not be willing to provide this information. Under such circumstances, Section 11 of the Act, will certainly come into play.
The court, therefore opined that such sensitive information that related to third parties could not be provided to the petitioner without putting them on notice.
If the copy of the certificates are given by the Public Information Officer, it will tantamount to providing third party information to the petitioner. In view of the sensitiveness of the details that will get into the hands of the petitioner, such information should not be provided without putting those candidates on notice.
Thus, the court found no ground to interfere with the decision of the respondents in denying the issuance of the copy of the certificates of the candidates who had applied under the "Inter Caste Marriage" category and hence, dismissed the petition.
Case Title: Mr.P.Adhavan Seral v. The Tamilnadu Information Commission and others
Case No: W.P.No.21018 of 2015
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Mad) 317
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr.P.Balamurugan
Counsel for the Respondents: Mr.Niranjan Ragagopalan (R1), Mr.C.Sathish Government Advocate (R2 and R3)