SC: Subject to Art. 74(2), court can permit anything that an RTI officer can

The Hon’ble Justice K.M. Joseph of the Supreme Court, today, i.e. on 10thApril 2019, in the matter of Yashwant Sinha & Ors. v. Central Bureau Of Investigation Through Its Director & Anr. pronounced that subject to provisions of Article 74(2) of the Constitution, what an officer under the RTI Act can permit, can be allowed by a court.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court also observed that:

The Press in India has greatly contributed to the strengthening of democracy in the country. It will have a pivotal role to play for the continued existence of a vibrant democracy in the country. It is indisputable that the press out of which the visual media in particular wields power, the reach of which appears to be limitless. No segment of the population is impervious to its influence.It must realise that its consumers are entitled to demand that the stream of information that flows from it, must remain unpolluted by considerations other than truth.(Para 2)

Freedom involves many elements. A free person must be fearless. Fear can be of losing all or any of the things that is held dear by the journalist. A free man cannot be biased. Bias comes in many forms. Bias if it is established as per the principles which are applicable is sufficient to vitiate the decisions of public authorities. The rule against bias is an important axiom to be observed by Judges. Equally the Press including the visual media cannot be biased and yet be free. Bias ordinarily implies a pre-disposition towards ideas or persons, both expressions to be comprehended in the broadest terms. It may stem from personal, political or financial considerations. Transmitting biased information, betrays absence of true freedom. It is, in fact, a wholly unjustifiable onslaught on the vital right of the people to truthful information under Article 19(1)(a) which, in turn, is the bedrock of many other rights of the citizens also. In fact, the right of the Press in India is no higher than the right of the citizens under Article 19(1)(a) and is traced to the same provision. The ability of truth to be recognised by a discerning public in the supposedly free market place of ideas forms much of the basis for the grant of the unquestionable freedom to the Press including the Media Houses. If freedom is enjoyed by the Press without a deep sense of responsibility, it can weaken democracy. In some sections, there appears to be a disturbing trend of bias. Controlling business interests and political allegiances appear to erode the duty of dispassionate and impartial purveying of information.(Para 3)

The RTI Act through Section 8(2) has conferred upon the citizens a priceless right by clothing them with the right to demand information even in respect of such matters as security of the country and matters relating to relation with foreign state. No doubt, information is not be given for the mere asking. The applicant must establish that withholding of such information produces greater harm than disclosing it.(Para 20)

Subject to provisions of Article 74(2) of the Constitution, what an officer under the RTI Act can permit, can be allowed by a court (This inference has been drawn on the basis of Para 24)

The manner in which evidence is got namely that it was procured in an illegal manner would not ordinarily be very significant in itself in regard to the courts decision to act upon the same.(Para 26)

 Copy of judgement: Judgement_10-Apr-2019

-Tushar Kaushik

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