The Central Information Commission has ruled that annual confidential reports of government servants cannot be treated as secret, saying “citizens’ right to information has greater primacy with regard to privacy.”
The government has, so far, refused to provide the annual confidential reports (ACRs) by citing the exemption provision of personal information under the Right To Information Act (RTI).
The ACR evaluates the work and performance of a public servant on an annual basis. The labour ministry invoked the clause saying the information had no relation to public interest, while refusing to provide details of ACRs of 17 officials.
VK Sharma of Kolkata had sought information regarding the promotion of these officers in October 2010.
Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, however, said that privacy is a cultural notion related to social norms and cannot be considered a valid exercise to constrain the citizen’s fundamental right to information.
“Parliament has not codified the right to privacy, so far. Hence, in balancing the right to information of citizens and the individual’s right to privacy, the citizen’s right to information would be given greater weightage,” said Gandhi, in his order.
Gandhi also said information such as property details, conviction or acquittal of a public servant of criminal charges, which is routinely collected by a public authority and provided by public servants, cannot be construed as an invasion of privacy.
“Similarly, citizens have a right to know about the strengths and weaknesses as well as performance evaluation of all public servants,” he said, while asking Prakash Tamrakar, public information officer of the ministry, to provide the information sought.
In addition, the order also said that ACRs were first treated as secret by the British, under the Officials Secrets Act of 1923.
But over the years, the trend has drastically changed, with even the judiciary recognising rights of the citizens to access information to bring transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government.
As per the RTI, the Officials Secrets Act (OSA) is not applicable anymore wherever citizens seek access to information, except the exemption provisions under the information law.