An application seeking information under RTI Act regarding the annual gross income details of the Deputy Manager was made to PIO of TNPL. It was declined on the ground that it is of personal nature and that it would not be revealed to a third person without the authorisation of the employee concerned. On appeal, State Information Commission held that the information must be given immediately.
The Deputy Manager, aggrieved filed writ petition to quash the order of Commission contending that the information relates to personal information and the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest and it would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of a person.
High Court observed that under Section 4 (x) of RTI Act public authority is obliged to maintain all its records and has to publish the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation. Further under Sub-section 2 the public authority should provide this information suo motu through various means of communications. High Court therefore, held that public authority was under a statutory obligation to make available the information relating to the monthly remuneration received by each of the officers and employees. In fact, it is not necessary for any person to seek this information if TNPL had discharged its obligation under Section 4. The High Court held like this:
“6. The next objection is with relation to the nature of information sought for. Section 4 of the Act deals with the obligation of the public authority to do the following:
(a) maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerized are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerized and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated.
(b) publish within one hundred and twenty days from the enactment of this Act,--
(x) the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;
(xvi) the names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers;
Sub-section (2) provides that the public authority should endeavour constantly to provide this information suo motu at regular intervals through various means of communications including the internet. Subsection (3) provides that every information should be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public. Subsection (4) provides dissemination of information by taking into consideration the local language and cost effective method of communication.
7. Section 8 of the Act reads as follows:
Exemption from disclosure of information.- (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,--
(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information:
Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.
It is clear therefore, that TNPL was under a statutory obligation to make available, interalia on the internet, the information relating to the monthly remuneration received by each of the officers and employees including the system of compensation as provided in its Regulations. It is obvious that TNPL has not done so. In fact, it is not necessary for any person to seek this information if TNPL had discharged its obligation under Section 4. The information would have been available on the internet to any person who is interested.”
High Court also rejected the other objection that it is a personal information which has no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of a person. The petitioner receives his salary from a public sector undertaking and it is subject to the provisions of Income Tax. Therefore, there is nothing secret about the income received by him. Further it also cannot be stated that the disclosure has no relationship to any public activity or interest. The income received by an individual from a public sector undertaking cannot be private information. The High Court held:
“8. As regards the objection that it is a personal information which has no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of a person, this deserves to be rejected. The petitioner receives his salary from a public sector undertaking and as stated in the counter filed by the respondents 2 and 3 it is subject to the provisions of Income Tax. Therefore, there is nothing secret about the income received by him. Further it also cannot be stated that the disclosure has no relationship to any public activity or interest. The case of the fourth respondent is, if this information is disclosed it would show that the petitioner's wife would not satisfy one of the criteria subject to which the LPG distributorship is allotted. This allotment of distributorship cannot be arbitrary and contrary to rules and if there is some factor which would vitiate the selection process, then it would definitely be a matter of public interest. In any event, the income received by an individual from a public sector undertaking cannot be private information. Information relating for example as to whether a particular person is tested HIV positive might be a matter which intrudes into the privacy of the individual, but not the monthly income which a person is receiving from a public sector undertaking which is subject to income tax.
9. The other objection raised is that, as on date the writ petitioner has resigned from TNPL and therefore, the information that is now sought for would not be the information relating to an employee, but an erstwhile employee. This objection cannot be entertained because the petitioner was an employee of TNPL when he filed the writ petition. He obtained stay. During the currency of stay, pending the writ petition, he resigned and he cannot now take advantage of that fact. The matter will have to be dealt with according to the status of the petitioner on the date of application and on the date of the impugned order. The decision to allot the distributorship will be tested according to the circumstances that prevailed on the date of decision.
13. One of the objectives to this right to information is eradication of ineffective governance and corrupt governance. Corruption is now recognized as violation of human rights. Good transparency practices are essential for good governance and it includes maximum disclosure; obligation to publish; promotion of open government; limited scope of exceptions; minimum costs; processes that facilitate access; open meetings; precedence of disclosure; and protection of whistle-blowers. The civil society must be unrelenting in its efforts to ensure that the government at all levels reaches a reasonable standard in affording public information to the citizens. Sometimes even harmless information is not made available. When what is asked for is just ordinary data, data that any interested tax-paying citizen has a right to know - a human right, even where no national secrets that threaten public interest are asked for - it is not furnished. This access to information is more vitally important in developing countries. It is very necessary that the ordinary person is enabled to participate in the processes that affect daily life and he has empowered with the information to play an effective role in policy-making and legislative decision-making. To promote broader political participation, there should be accountability and transparency of government, to prevent the criminalization of policy, there should be free flow of information. These are the reasons why the Act came into force. The Government should have the will to make the shift from being niggardly in providing access to information. Transparency is essential for a healthy democracy and robust economy. The first respondent was right in directing that the information should be given.”