The Delhi High Court in its order dated November 21, 2022 set aside a Central Information Commission (CIC) Order where they had directed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to disclose under the RTI Act details related to passport, marriage certificate, address proof, ID proof and other documents of a man embroiled in matriomonial battle.
Rejecting the CIC order that allowed such vital information to be shared with estranged wife, the Delhi High Court stated:
Disclosures under RTI Act with respect to a passport or any other personal identification document of a third party is no longer res integra.
In June 2018, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) had told the applicant wife that since the disclosure demanded by her would constitute third party information, it is not liable to be provided in light of the Section 8(1)(j) of the Act.
Assailing the aforesaid decision, the wife had preferred a first appeal in which the order passed by the CPIO was upheld.
Aggrieved by the aforesaid order, the respondent wife moved the Central Information Commission by way of a second appeal. That appeal came to be allowed with the Commission, rejecting the view taken by the CPIO and the first appellate authority that the disclosures which are sought would fall foul of the injunct which stands placed under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act
The CIC, on May 15, 2020, then directed the MEA to disclose personal information of a husband to his estranged wife. The same was challenged by MEA at High Court.
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Delhi High Court
If passport number of a third party is furnished to an applicant, it can be misused. For instance, if the applicant were to lodge a report with the police that a passport bearing a particular number is lost, the Passport Authority would automatically revoke the same without knowledge and to the prejudice of the third party.
The Delhi High Court also referred to a more recent case Vijay Prakash vs. Union of India where the issue with respect to the rights of third parties and prayers for disclosures that may be made under the Act was revisited by the Court. It quoted,
The scheme of the Information Act no doubt is premised on disclosure being the norm, and refusal, the exception. Apart from the classes of exceptions, they also appear to work at different levels or stages, in the enactment. Thus, for instance, several organizations—security, and intelligence agencies, are excluded from the regime, by virtue of Section 24, read with the Second Schedule to the Act.
The second level of exception is enacted in Section 8, which lists 11 categories or classes [Clauses (a) to (j)] that serve as guidelines for nondisclosure. Though by Section 22, the Act overrides other laws, the opening non obstante clause in Section 8 (“notwithstanding anything contained in this Act”) W.P.(C) 3735/2020 Page 4 of 6 confers primacy to the exemptions, enacted under Section 8(1). Clause (j) embodies the exception of information in the possession of the public authority which relates to a third party. S
imply put, this exception is that if the information concerns a third party (i.e. a party other than the information seeker and the information provider), unless a public interest in disclosure is shown, information would not be given; information may also be refused on the ground that disclosure may result in unwarranted intrusion of privacy of the individual. Significantly, the enactment makes no distinction between a private individual third party and a public servant or public official third party.
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The HC then referred to the same order analysed public access to the personal details such as identity particulars of public servants, i.e. details such as their dates of birth, personal identification numbers, or other personal information furnished to public agencies, is requested, the balancing exercise, necessarily dependant and evolving on case by case basis may take into account the following relevant considerations:
- Whether the information is deemed to comprise the individual’s private details, unrelated to his position in the organization
- Whether the disclosure of the personal information is with the aim of providing knowledge of the proper performance of the duties and tasks assigned to the public servant in any specific case
- Whether the disclosure will furnish any information required to establish accountability or transparency in the use of public resources
Citing Vijay Prakash Vs Union of India, the high court noted the difference of right to privacy of a public servant Vs a private individual:
A private individual’s right to privacy is undoubtedly of the same order as that of a public servant. Therefore, it would be wrong to assume that the substantive rights of the two differ.
Yet, inherent in the situation of the latter is the premise that he acts for the public good, in the discharge of his duties, and is accountable for them. The character of protection, therefore, which is afforded to the two classes—public servants and private individuals, has to be viewed from this perspective.
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Viewed in the backdrop of the principles which stand enunciated in Vijay Prakash VS Union of India, the Delhi High court considered opinion that the order of the Chief Information Commissioner, directing the petitioner MEA to make the requisite disclosures can neither be countenanced nor upheld.
Accordingly, and for all the aforesaid reasons, the instant writ petition was allowed and the CIC order consequently was quashed and set aside.
READ ORDER: Delhi HC Sets Aside CIC Order Directing MEA To Furnish Passport Details Of Husband To Estranged Wife— Voice For Men India (@voiceformenind) December 3, 2022
"Can be misused if applicant were to lodge police report that passport is lost, Authority would automatically revoke w/o knowledge"
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