HC rejects Jaya TV shareholder's plea

Madurai, July 1: The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has dismissed a petition seeking to quash an order allowing disclosure of the details of some public documents under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Justice K Chandru dismissed the petition of S Vaikuntarajan, a shareholder in Jaya TV, who had approached the court against the order passed by the Director of Geology and Mining allowing disclosure of the details of lease agreements and transport permits granted in favour of V V Minerals and Beach Minerals partly owned by him.

The judge said under the RTI Act access to a document cannot be denied, especially when it was issued by statutory authorities, citing the objection by the petitioner.

He said Section 8(1)(d) of the Act, which restricts the disclosure of the documents relating to trade or commercial secrets protected by law, would not apply to documents issued by the statutory authorities as they were classified as public documents.

He said the Director had concluded that grant of lease and transport permits could not be classified as documents of commercial confidence and trade. Further, "he (Director) is appellate authority", judge noted.

"Even otherwise, the RTI Act does not give full immunity for disclosure of a third party document. But, on the other hand, it allows authorities concerned to weigh the pros and cons between private commercial interest and public interest in the disclosure of such information", he said.

In cases where information was in exclusive custody of the state, the question of seeking opinion from the petitioner on disclosure might not arise, especially when they were public documents, he said. By disclosure of such information, no privilege or business interests of the petitioner was affected. On the other hand, such disclosure might help others to act upon those documents and take appropriate steps.

If a person, who seeks documents, is a business competitor and if any trade secret is sought, such disclosure may be denied.

But if a public document was sought by an individual, whatever be the motivation, was not relevant as the Central RTI Act had not made any distinction between a citizen and a so-called motivated citizen, the judge said.

A petitioner could object disclosing of documents such as property statements and income tax returns filed by him.

"But in case of lease deeds and transport permits which emanate from the statutory authorities and where the petitioner cannot be said to be in exclusive possession, he cannot have a right to object to its being disclosed", he observed. (Agencies)

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