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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Administrative difficulty is not the problem of RTI Applicants : Madras HC

In a landmark judgement on RTI, the Hon’ble Madras High Court has ruled that a public authority cannot hide behind the excuse of administrative difficulties to refuse information to RTI Applicants.

In the instant case, the Archives department of Govt of Tamil Nadu had refused to part with information on two grounds. One, that a State Govt Order prohibited the dissemination of information to the general public and that it provided that such dissemination will be open only to “to bonafide Research Scholars, subject to such exceptions and restrictions as may be found necessary by the Departments concerned in consultation with the Commissioner of Tamil Nadu Archives and Historical Research”. The second objection was that the department was a very small establishment and was handling about 65 lac records and hence could not be asked to act as a public authority under the RTI Act.

The Hon’ble High Court has ruled that the RTI Act by virtue of Section 22 overrides all other laws in force in this regard including the Official Secrets Act and that information would have to be provided as ordained under the RTI Act. Though this has been held before, the observation of the Court on the second point may come as relief to many information seekers :

“The other objections that they are maintaining a large number of documents in respect of 45 departments and they are short of human resources cannot be raised to whittle down the citizens' right to seek information. It is for them to write to the Government to provide for additional staff depending upon the volume of requests that may be forthcoming pursuant to the RTI Act. It is purely an internal matter between the petitioner archives and the State Government. The right to information having been guaranteed by the law of Parliament, the administrative difficulties in providing information cannot be raised. Such pleas will defeat the very right of citizens to have access to information. Hence the objections raised by the petitioner (Department of Archives) cannot be countenanced by this court.”

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