Madras HC ruling on full immunity for disclosure under RTI Act
Chennai, Sept. 3 The Right to Information Act, 2005 did not give any full immunity for disclosure of a third party document. It gave authorities under the Act to weigh pros and cons of weighing conflict of interest between private commercial interest and public interest in disclosure of such information, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court ruled.
A businessman (D. Dayadevadass), invoking provisions of the RTI Act sought certain information regarding business of petitioner (V.V. Mineral, Tisaiyanvilai, Tirunelveli Dt). Information sought from the Assistant Information Officer, Tirunelveli) pertained to lease granted in favour of petitioner and another company for the past 10 years and also transport permits obtained by these two companies during that period.
The petitioner made an accusation against Dayadevadass (4th respondent) alleging that he was a business competitioner and submitted that these documents need not be furnished to him. Third respondent (Assistant Information Officer, Tirunelveli) passed order on April 30, 2007 rejecting the request of the fourth respondent by placing reliance on Section 8(1)(d) of Act.
The fourth respondent filed an appeal against order to the first respondent (Director of Geology and Mining, Chennai), and the appeal was allowed by order of June 4, 2007 stating that the order of he third respondent was not in accordance with the Act. As against this, present writ petition.
Petitioner contended, inter alia, that his claim was based upon protection given to him under Section 8(1)(d) of Act. The fourth respondent had no right to seek for documents because he was a business competitor.
Dismissing the petition, Mr Justice K. Chandru held that ordering notice to petitioner by the third respondent and taking his objection and refusing to furnish documents sought by a citizen was clearly beyond the scope of the Act. By disclosure of such information, no privilege of business interests of the petitioner was affected. Section 8(1)(d) only talked about commercial confidence, trade secrets, which disclosure would harm competition position of third party. The section did not prescribe any total bar. “This is the unique provision made in the Act contrary to bar created under Official Secrets Act and other analogous enactments like Section 21 of Industrial Disputes Act or Section 34 A(1) of Banking Companies Act.”
If one had to go by object on which the said Act had been enacted, objection raised by the petitioner paled into insignificance and did not warrant this court to interfere with order passed by the first respondent. Hence, the writ petition was dismissed.