New Delhi, March 1:
Observing that the RTI Act was intended to be a “formidable tool” in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and bring in transparency and accountability, the Delhi High Court has cautioned “not to misuse” the Act by impractical demands for disclosure.
Justice Manmohan said the Right to Information (RTI) was a “cherished right” and seeking answers to “meaningless and vague queries” would adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and result in the executive getting bogged down with non-productive work of collecting and furnishing information.
The high court was hearing a plea from the external affairs ministry challenging the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) for imposing a cost of Rs.25,000 on the ministry after it failed to supply information within the prescribed time.
A man named Praveen Gupta had sought information from the ministry on steps taken to improve Hindi language, steps taken to make Hindi the national language, and what kind of work was being done by ministry in Hindi, among others.
Hearing the ministry’s plea, Justice Manmohan said the primary duty of the ministry officials is to maintain good diplomatic relations with countries and to promote and protect the political and economic interest of India abroad.
“If the limited manpower and resources of the ministry are devoted to address such meaningless and vague queries, this court is of the opinion that the office of the ministry would come to a standstill,” the court said, setting aside the CIC order.
The court said it has a view that the Act “should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquillity and harmony among its citizens”.
It said the Act should not be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty.
“The nation does not want a scenario where 75 percent of the staff of public authorities spends 75 percent of their time collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties.
“The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees prioritising information furnishing at the cost of their normal and regular duties,” Justice Manmohan said.
The court also said it was necessary “to clear some misconceptions about the RTI Act”.
The RTI Act provides access to all information available and existing, but where the information sought is not a part of the record of a public authority, it does not cast an obligation upon the public authority to collect or collate such non-available information and then furnish it to an applicant, the court added.