It’s official. Inquiries against corrupt government officials cannot be deemed as personal and kept outside the purview of the Right to Information Act.
Transparency watchdog the Central Information Commission has ruled that such inquiries should be disclosed under Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Information Commissioner A.N. Tiwari made the observation while disposing a plea of Amarjeet Singh who had sought details of an inquiry report against his colleague, a government employee posted with the department of Central Customs and Excise.
The department had rejected Singh's RTI application on the ground that the information he was seeking was of "personal nature" and of no "public interest".
"It would be safe to hold that investigation or inquiry against a third-party employee cannot be brought within the scope of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act," Tiwari said.
The section exempts personal information from disclosure unless larger public interest is served. In this case, the CIC ruled, that the larger public interest was involved.
The reason given was that public authority appoints an employee to discharge public functions and it is the manner of his discharge of the functions, which is called into question through inquiries and investigations.
"In that sense, the inquiry or investigation against the employee of the public authority ceases to be personal to the employee,” he said in the order.
“It relates to overall governance with the public authority as well as its accountability to the larger public for discharging the functions for which the public authority was created.”
Singh and his colleague were facing departmental inquiry for alleged irregularities. But, the case against his colleague was closed whereas the one against him continued. He sought a copy of the inquiry against his colleague to find why his case was closed.
Tiwari said an RTI applicant could seek information not only pertaining to himself in an investigation - ongoing or closed - but also against a third-party in a similar matter.
Tiwari also said that each application would have to be examined within the scope of exemption clauses provided under the RTI Act, which provides for seeking approval of the person about whom the information is being sought.
“Such information cannot be denied only on the ground that it was personal to an employee and that no public interest warranted its disclosure,” his order read.