The Right to Information is probably the most powerful right to the citizen, who can excercise this right to make government transparent and accountable. Our government is full of information. However, there are few categores of information, which must not be provided to everyone in national interest or in individual interest. Our lawmakers have considered all aspects, and accordingly defined some categories of information as exempted information. In this article, I have provided the details of exemption from disclosure of information under RTI Act 2005.
Exemption from disclosure of information under RTI Act 2005
While Section 8(1) and Section (9) of the RTI Act enumerate the types of information which are exempt from disclosure, the Section (24) of the Act exempts some kind of organization from furnishing information under RTI Act.
Exemption from disclosure of information under RTI Act 2005 (Section 8 of RTI Act)
Section (8) of RTI Act lays down certain qualified exemptions, which are subject to the Public Interest Test. Here, the public authority in possession of the information, must consider whether there is greater public interest in disclosing the information or withholding the information.
“8(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,—
(a) information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence;
(b) information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;
(c) information, the disclosure of which 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 or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes; (h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
(i) cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers:
Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over: Provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed;
(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.”
These information are exemption from disclosure of information under RTI Act 2005. However, sub-section (2), and (3) of section (8) provides exceptions to these exemptions.
“8(2) Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 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.”
This means that PIO can disclose the information exempted under sub-section 8(1) or exempted under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 if public interest in disclosure overweighs the harm to the protected interests.
“8(3) Subject to the provisions of clauses (a), (c) and (i) of sub-section (1), any information relating to any occurrence, event or matter which has taken place, occurred or happened twenty years before the date on which any request is made under secton 6 shall be provided to any person making a request under that section:
Provided that where any question arises as to the date from which the said period of twenty years has to be computed, the decision of the Central Government shall be final, subject to the usual appeals provided for in this Act.”
This section classifies few information as Time Limited Exemptions. This means, the information which, in normal course, is exempt from disclosure under sub-section 8(1) of the Act, would cease to be exempted if 20 years have lapsed after occurrence of the incident to which the information relates. However, the following types of information would continue to be exempt and there would be no obligation, even after lapse of 20 years, to give any citizen:
(i) Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the State, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence;
(ii) Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature; or
(iii) cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other Officers subject to the conditions given in proviso to clause (i) of sub-section(1) of Section 8 of the Act.
Exemption from disclosure of information under RTI Act 2005 (Section 9 of RTI Act)
“9. Without prejudice to the provisions of section 8, a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, may reject a request for information where such a request for providing access would involve an infringement of copyright subsisting in a person other than the State.”
This section lays down that any information, whose copyright is not held by the state, cannot be provided by it under any circumstances. This exemption is not a qualified exemption, but rather an absolute one. It is primarily intended to prevent misuse of the RTI Act by the Governmental agencies, especially in matters of infringement of copyright and the like.
Exemption from disclosure of information under RTI Act 2005 (Section 24 of RTI Act)
“24(1) Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the intelligence and security organisations specified in the Second Schedule, being organisations established by the Central Government or any information furnished by such organisations to that Government:
Provided that the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded under this sub-section:
Provided further that in the case of information sought for is in respect of allegations of violation of human rights, the information shall only be provided after the approval of the Central Information Commission, and notwithstanding anything contained in section 7, such information shall be provided within forty-five days from the date of the receipt of request.
This Section dictates that the intelligence and security organisations will not fall under the purview of this act. It also makes a statement to the effect that any information given by such agencies to the Government too would be outside the scope of the applicability of this act. The list of such organizations are mentioned in the Second Schedule of the Act. However, the Section also lays down a proviso to prevent the basic aim of the act from being violated by declaring that allegations of corruptions and violations of human rights cannot be excluded under this act. Therefore, this section can be said to be the quintessence of the spirit of democracy as it provides for information to the public, but at the same time, puts a reasonable limit in place over the same.
These are the exemption from disclosure of information under RTI Act 2005. The Public Authority shall strictly adhere to these sections while furnishing information under RTI Act.