In a ruling that would be music to the ears of babus, the Supreme Court (SC) has held that a government officer’s personal details such as income-tax (I-T) returns cannot be divulged in response to a query under the Right to Information Act (RTI) unless a larger public interest was involved. Disclosure of such information would amount to unwarranted invasion of an officer’s privacy, it said.
“The performance of an employee or officer in an organisation is primarily a matter between the employee and the employer and normally those aspects are governed by the service rules which fall under the expression ‘personal information’, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or public interest,” said a bench of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra.
Under the transparency law, the court observed, information on the officer cannot be made public as his or her performance is a matter between the employee and an employer. Such information cannot be claimed as a right by others, it said.
“The details disclosed by a person in his I-T returns are ‘personal information’ which stand exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless a larger public interest is involved and the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority is satisfied that a larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information,” the bench noted in its verdict.
Dismissing an appeal against the denial of information regarding a government servant’s service matters and also the details of his assets, liabilities and movable and immovable assets, the bench said the particulars sought by the petitioner fell under the expression of an officer’s “personal information.”
The petitioner, the court observed, could not have claimed disclosure of such information as a matter of right.
The SC agreed with the concurrent findings of the Central Information Commission and the Bombay High Court, stating personal information could be divulged only if the public information officer was satisfied that a larger public interest justified the disclosure.
The petitioner before the SC had approached the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner (Ministry of Labour) on August 27, 2008, seeking various details relating to a person employed as an enforcement officer in the sub-regional office, Akola.
He had also sought the details related to his service record including the copies of all memos, showcause notices or a censure notice, if any, served upon the officer.
The petitioner wanted a list of gifts accepted by the official, his family members and relatives on his son’s marriage.
“We are of the view that the petitioner has not succeeded in establishing that the info sought is for the larger public interest. That being the fact, we are not inclined to entertain this special leave petition,” the bench observed.