Effective dissemination of information by public bodies and institutions can help avoid unnecessary applications by citizens under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Supreme Court has said.
"The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spend 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to (RTI) applicants instead of discharging their regular duties," the court said, adding that the law should not be allowed to be misused or abused.
If the information is effectively disseminated, apart from providing transparency and accountability, citizens will be able to access it and avoid unnecessary applications seeking details, the court said.
An apex court bench of justice RV Raveendran and justice AK Patnaik said this in their judgment last week while clarifying some "misconceptions" about the transparency law.
"The (Right to Information) act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquillity and harmony among its citizens," the court said.
"Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty," said the judges.
The judgment dealt with certain aspects of the RTI Act while deciding in favour of students' right to inspect and photocopy their answer sheets after the examiners have evaluated them.
Speaking for the bench, justice Raveendran said: "The RTI Act provides access to all the information that is available and existing" with the public authorities.
"But where the information sought is not a part of the record of a public authority, and where such information is not required to be maintained under any law or the rules or regulations of the public authority, the act does not cast an obligation upon the public authority, to collect or collate such non-available information and then furnish it to an applicant," the court said.
A public authority was also not required to furnish information which required drawing of inferences and/or making of assumptions, it said.
The judges said the public authority was neither required to provide "advice" or "opinion" to an RTI applicant nor was it expected to obtain and furnish this.
"The reference to 'opinion' or 'advice' in the definition of 'information' in Section 2(f) of the act only refers to such material available in the records of the public authority," the judgment said.
Many public authorities, as a public relations exercise, provided advice, guidance and opinion to information seekers. But that was purely voluntary and should not be confused with any obligation under the law, the judges said.
The court said that the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commissions could not direct the public authority to take steps, which were not required or contemplated to be taken to comply with the provisions of the transparency law.
"The power under the act is intended to be used by the commissions to ensure compliance with the act" and to ensure that every public authority maintains its records duly catalogued and indexed in the manner and in the form which facilitates the right to information, the judgment said.