The Delhi High Court has held that non-citizens are not barred from seeking information from public authorities under the Right to Information Act (RTI) and that it would be inherently contradictory to hold that such a right was available only to the citizens.

The Bench of Justice Pratibha M. Singh observed that “Considering that the RTI Act also accords information relating to life or liberty an important and distinct position, it would be inherently contradictory to hold that only citizens are entitled to the Right to Information. Life or liberty could also relate to non-citizens including foreigners, NRI’s, OCI card holders and such other persons.”

“While as a general proposition, it would be correct to hold that the right to information is conferred upon all citizens, it cannot also be held that there is an absolute prohibition on disclosure of information to non-citizens. In the case of such public authorities dealing with issues concerning non-citizens, if there is an inaction or lack of transparency in their dealings, it cannot be held that such a non-citizen would be disabled from seeking the said information under the RTI Act.” the Bench further asserted.

Advocate Jyoti Dutt Sharma appeared for the petitioner.

In this case, the respondent, a teacher at Darjeeling’s Central School for Tibetans, in 2014, had filed an application seeking information related to his service from Central Tibetan Schools Administration (CTSA). The CTSA denied information to the respondent and said that information could not be disclosed to him as his nationality was Tibetan.

In 2016, the Central Information Commission (CIC) directed the CTSA to provide information to the respondent. It observed that CTSA ignored the fundamental principle that a person born in India attains the citizenship of India, even if his parents are from Tibet. The CIC ruled in favour of the respondent, had imposed a penalty of Rs. 25,000/- on the Public Information Officer (PIO). The PIO challenged the imposition of penalty in 2017 and CIC order was stayed by the High Court in April 2017.

The Court perused the Parliamentary Debates on the Right to Information Bill and said that these debates would show that the expressions being used at the time when the Bill was moved, was for securing access to information for ‘people’. During the debates, the words ‘people’, ‘citizen’, ‘persons’ were being used interchangeably. It was also noted that one of the recommendations was that the right to information should be conferred on all persons and not just citizens.

“An analysis of the provisions of the Act does show that in certain provisions, the word “citizen” is used and in a majority of provisions, the word “person” is used. Clearly in the legislative history of the Right to Information Bill leading to the RTI Act, there was a debate as to whether the word citizen should be substituted with person or not. In respect of Clause 3, the conferment of the Right to Information was retained without change i.e. the word “citizen” was retained.” the Court said.

The Bench held, "It would be left to the discretion of the authority concerned to decide depending upon the facts, situation and the surrounding circumstances as to whether the information deserves to be disclosed or not. Creating an absolute bar would be contrary to the purpose and object of the RTI Act itself, and such an absolute bar cannot be read into the RTI Act."

Accordingly, the Petition was allowed and the Court set aside the penalty amount of Rs. 25,000/- imposed by the CIC.

Cause Title- A S Rawat v. Dawa Tashi (Neutral Citation No.- 2023/DHC/001799)

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