The Delhi High Court has held that a Public Information Officer(PIO) cannot deny information under the Right to Information Act 2005(RTI Act) on the ground that authentic information is available with another authority.
This was held by Justice Vibhu Bhakru while dismissing writ petition filed by PIO of Commissioner of Police, Delhi, challenging the direction of Central Information Commission (CIC) to permit the applicant to inspect documents in relation to information sought under RTI Act.
The applicant had sought information regarding the complaints forwarded by Delhi Police to Municipal Corporation of Delhi(MCD) from 01.01.2011 to 26.11.11. The application was rejected by PIO on ground that authentic information regarding unauthorised construction was available with MCD. This rejection was initially upheld by the CIC on 05.07.2013.
Later, the applicant filed another application, seeking information with respect to intimations/complaints sent by Delhi police to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi from 01.01.2010 to 25.08.2012 regarding unauthorized fresh construction of buildings. Though the PIO disclosed the number of complaints forwarded, further details were withheld on ground that it pertains to third parties under Section 11 of RTI Act. In appeal, the CIC directed PIO to enable inspection of the relevant files and provide photocopies of the relevant documents, as per order dated 20.01.2014.
This order was challenged by the PIO in the writ petition. It was contended that the impugned order of CIC was contradictory to the first order of CIC. It was also contended that the Police does not form any opinion regarding unauthorized construction, as it was for the MCD to decide that, and hence information was available with MCD.
The Court noted that the applicant was seeking information regarding complaints forwarded by the Police. It was held that the fact that more authentic information is available with MCD was no ground for PIO of Police Department to withhold information :
"In terms of the RTI Act, all information as available with the public authority is required to be provided to the citizen unless it is exempt from disclosure under Section 8 of the RTI Act or otherwise pertains to the organizations that are excluded from the purview of the RTI Act. Thus, the question whether authentic information is available with another public authority is not a ground to deny the information as sought from a public authority", held the Court.
The Court was also not impressed by the argument that Section 11 barred disclosure of third party information. It was held that Section 11 does not prevent disclosure of third party information; rather, it facilitates furnishing of third party information subject to the consent of the third party.
"A plain reading of Section 11 of the RTI Act indicates that the same does not proscribe furnishing of information. In terms of Section 11(1) of the RTI Act, in cases where the public information officers (PIOs)intend to disclose the information, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by a third party, it would be necessary for the concerned PIO to give a written notice to the third party. The concerned third party has a right to make a submission either in writing or orally and the concerned PIO is required to keep the same in view while taking a decision regarding disclosure of such information. Thus, Section 11 of the RTI Act cannot be read as a provision proscribing disclosure of information; it is a provision to enable disclosure of third party information subject to certain safeguards. In this view, the decision of the CPIO denying the information by referring Section 11 of the RTI Act is wholly unsustainable", said Justice Bhakru in the judgment.
Additionally, the Court held that information regarding complaints forwarded by Police to MCD cannot be termed as confidential third party information.