RTI Act applies to ED if information sought relates to corruption and human rights violation: Delhi High Court
A Division Bench of Justices Manmohan and Sudhir Kumar Jain said that the expression ‘human rights’ cannot be given a narrow or pedantic view, and that non-supply of documents related to a person’s promotions would amount to human rights violation.
“In the opinion of this Court, the employees of a security establishment cannot be deprived of their fundamental and legal rights just because they work in an intelligence and security establishment. To hold so would amount to holding that those who serve in these organizations have no human rights,” the judgment stated.
The judges said that the RTI Act is a tool that allows employees and officers to air their grievances systematically and its intent is to secure access to information in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.
“It is said that ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant’ and the RTI Act promotes the said concept. Consequently, both service and RTI laws ‘act like a safety valve in the society’,” the Court opined.
The Court was dealing with an appeal filed by the ED challenging an order of a single-judge passed on December 7, 2018. The single-judge refused to stay an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) which directed the ED to provide documents related to the seniority list of lower divisional clerks (LDCs) from 1991 till date. The agency was also directed to provide copies of the proposal for promotion of the respondent LDC placed before the Departmental Promotion Committee (DPC) along with copies of minutes of meetings and a copy of the promotion/rejection order issued on the recommendations of the DPC from time to time.
The Division Bench, while issuing notice in ED's challenge, refused to stay the order. The agency then filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court, which disposed of the petition in October 2021 with a direction to the High Court to decide the matter with respect to applicability of the RTI Act to ED.
The High Court agreed with the submission by ED’s counsel that it is an intelligence and security organisation specified in the second schedule of the RTI Act, and therefore exempt from its purview, except when the information sought concerns corruption and human rights violations.
However, it did not agree with the submission that only such information that is furnished by the exempted organization to the government pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violation is to be provided.
On the scope of 'human rights', it held,
"This Court is of the opinion that the expression ‘human rights’ cannot be given a narrow or pedantic meaning. It does not refer to the rights of the accused alone. Human rights have been used for a variety of purposes, from resisting torture and arbitrary incarceration to determining the end of hunger and of medial neglect. In fact, the human rights are both progressive and transformative."
The Court also noted that in the present petition, the respondent was not seeking information about any investigation or intelligence or covert operations carried out nationally or internationally and if such information was being sought, the ED was entitled to deny the information under RTI.
It also clarified that the information pertaining to proposals for promotion of third parties cannot be provided to the respondent in view of Section 11 of the RTI Act.
With these observations, the Court directed the agency to provide all the relevant documents as demanded under the RTI Act, and disposed of the petition.
While Central Government Standing Counsel (CGSC) Amit Mahajan along with advocate Dhruv Pande appeared for the Union of India, the respondent was represented by advocate Shiv Kumar.
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