Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, October 19
More than a decade after the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into existence, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has interpreted its scope to make it clear that even a death certificate can be obtained under the social welfare legislation. An applicant can obtain information under the Act even when a system is in place under another statute or law.
In his detailed order, Justice Augustine George Masih ruled that information could not be denied on the ground that alternative procedure and conditions were prescribed under another law, the Registration of Births and Deaths Act in this case.
Justice Masih ruled that the RTI Act would prevail in case of any inconsistency between its provisions and another Act or law. The option and prerogative was with the citizen to select and choose to exercise his right under another statute or law or the RTI Act.
Justice Masih noted that in case the citizen preferred to move an application under the RTI Act, the Public Information Officer was required to take a decision and provide information as a norm. Denial had to be in accordance with riders, exceptions and exemptions from disclosure provided for under the RTI Act itself.
The judgment came on a petition filed by Shakti Singh against the Haryana State Information Commission and other respondents. The petitioner had applied to the Jhajjar Sub-Registrar, Births and Deaths, for his mother’s death certificate in May 2015, only to be told that it was unavailable.
Faced with the situation, he had submitted an application under the RTI Act. The petitioner had finally moved the state commission after he failed to get the certificate. The commission observed that statutory mechanism under the births and deaths Act made it obligatory for the public authority to share information with the citizenry by following the prescribed procedure after fulfillment of essential conditions.
It could not be said that the public authority held or controlled information which could be accessed under the RTI Act. The control vested in the information seeker, who only had to operate the statutorily prescribed mechanism to access information.
Justice Masih further ruled that the RTI Act was legislated by Parliament for ensuring maximum disclosure with minimum exemptions. The special law aimed at smoother and greater access to information. The approach, as such, was not required to be restricted, but to be beneficial and for enlarging the principle of transparency, especially in public dealing.
“The right to information cannot be denied under the RTI Act merely because a statutory mechanism is evolved and prescribed under an Act which is also applicable, obliging a public authority to share the same by following a prescribed procedure subject to fulfilment of prescribed conditions,” Justice Masih added.
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