Saturday, 26 May 2018

Whether public authority can be directed to preserve information for any period longer that provided under rules of that public authority?

The right to access information does not extend beyond the period during which the examining body is expected to retain the answer-books. In the case of CBSE, the answer-books are required to be maintained for a period of three months and thereafter they are liable to be disposed of/destroyed. Some other examining bodies are required to keep the answer-books for a period of six months. The fact that right to information is available in regard to answer-books does not mean that answer-books will have to be maintained for any longer period than required under the rules and regulations of the public authority. The obligation under the RTI Act is to make available or give access to existing information or information which is expected to be preserved or maintained. If the rules and regulations governing the functioning of the respective public authority require preservation of the information for only a limited period, the applicant for information will be entitled to such information only if he seeks the information when it is available with the public authority. For example, with reference to answer-books, if an examinee makes an application to CBSE for inspection or grant of certified copies beyond three months (or six months or such other period prescribed for preservation of the records in regard to other examining bodies) from the date of declaration of results, the application could be rejected on the ground that such information is not available. The power of the Information Commission under Section 19(8) of the RTI Act to require a public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provision of the Act, does not include a power to direct the public authority to preserve the information, for any period larger than what is provided under the rules and regulations of the public authority.

30. On behalf of the Respondents/examinees, it was contended that having regard to Sub-section (3) of Section 8 of RTI Act, there is an implied duty on the part of every public authority to maintain the information for a minimum period of twenty years and make it available whenever an application was made in that behalf. This contention is based on a complete misreading and misunderstanding of Section 8(3). The said Sub-section nowhere provides that records or information have to be maintained for a period of twenty years. The period for which any particular records or information has to be maintained would depend upon the relevant statutory rule or regulation of the public authority relating to the preservation of records. Section 8(3) provides that information relating to any occurrence, event or matters which has taken place and occurred or happened twenty years before the date on which any request is made under Section 6, shall be provided to any person making a request. This means that where any information required to be maintained and preserved for a period beyond twenty years under the rules of the public authority, is exempted from disclosure under any of the provisions of Section 8(1) of RTI Act, then, notwithstanding such exemption, access to such information shall have to be provided by disclosure thereof, after a period of twenty years except where they relate to information falling under Clauses (a), (c) and (i) of Section 8(1). In other words, Section 8(3) provides that any protection against disclosure that may be available, under Clauses (b), (d) to (h) and (j) of Section 8(1) will cease to be available after twenty years in regard to records which are required to be preserved for more than twenty years. Where any record or information is required to be destroyed under the rules and regulations of a public authority prior to twenty years, Section 8(3) will not prevent destruction in accordance with the Rules. Section 8(3) of RTI Act is not therefore a provision requiring all 'information' to be preserved and maintained for twenty years or more, nor does it override any rules or regulations governing the period for which the record, document or information is required to be preserved by any public authority.

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

Civil Appeal No. 6454 of 2011 

Decided On: 09.08.2011

Central Board of Secondary Education and Anr. Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors.

Hon'ble Judges/Coram:
R.V. Raveendran and A.K. Patnaik, JJ.
Citation: (2011) 8 SCC 497.
Read full judgment here: Click here

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