, , , ,

Legal definition of “Information” in the context of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (PDF) is incorporated in section 2(f) of the said act, which reads as under :

S.2…(f) “information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force;

Ordinarily it is presumed that the definition provided by the legislation is precise and complete in respect of the particular Act. Further, the cardinal rule of construction of is to read the statute literally, that is by giving to the words their ordinary natural and grammatical meaning.

Recently Bomaby High Court (Goa Bench) has delivered a judgment (Dr. Celsa Pinto v. Goa State Information Commission ) under the Right to Information Act, 2005, wherein after interpreting the definition of “Information” the High Court has ruled as under

The definition cannot include within its fold answers to the question “why” which would be the same thing as asking the reason for a justification for a particular thing. The Public Information Authorities cannot expect to communicate to the citizen the reason why a certain thing was done or not done in the sense of a justification because the citizen makes a requisition about information. Justifications are matter within the domain of adjudicating authorities and cannot properly be classified as information.

However, interestingly, the Act itself expressly mandate that every public authority shall provide reasons for its administrative and quasi-judicial decisions. Section 4 ,with elaborate details, speaks about the obligations of public authorities. Section 4(1)(d) reads as under :

S.4 Obligations of public authorities :

(1)Every Public Authority shall –
(d)provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons

Therefore, from the express intention of the legislation as provided in the section 4(1)(d) every public authority is bound to provide reasons or justification for its decisions. Therefore, it appears that while passing the abovesaid judgment section 4(1)(d) has been completely overlooked by the High Court.

If the definition of “Information is taken as interpreted by the High Court in the abovesaid judgment, then it would restrict the purpose of the Act to a very narrow scope. If public authorities and officers cannot be asked about the reasons for their decisions then no public authorities or their officers can be made accountable for their duties and functions toward the public. Here it is also helpful and necessary to read the preamble of the Act, to understand the intention of the legislation behind enacting the Act.

An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Whereas the Constitution of India has established democratic Republic;

And whereas democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed;

And whereas revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information;

And whereas it is necessary to harmonies these conflicting interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal;

Now, therefore, it is expedient to provide for furnishing certain information to citizens who desire to have it.

Be it enacted by Parliament in the Fifty-sixth Year of the Republic of India as follows:—

Ordinarily, if the language of the Act is clear, the preamble is to be disregarded, however when the object or meaning of an enactment is not clear, the preamble is to be looked into to explain it. Therefore, if the definition of “Information” is taken as limited as provided in the section 2(f) that would frustrate the entire object of the Act.

Therefore, in my view, reading section 4(1)(d) with the preamble,  it can be safely concluded that legislation positively intends that “Information” includes reasons of Public Authority for its decisions and as such the abovesaid judgment of the High Court incorrectly interprets the Act, and requires reconsideration.

Download this post in PDF format Download this post in PDF format