Should information obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act be permissible as evidence in court? Lawyers and RTI activists are debating this question following the release of the judgement in the July 11, 2006 train blasts case, in which special judge YD Shinde wrote that such information “cannot be a substitute for evidence”.
Judge Shinde wrote in his judgment, “If certain information is given by a public information officer in his letter in reply to an application seeking information, such information, to my mind, cannot be a substitute for evidence and cannot be considered as evidence that is proved under the law.”
Santosh Daundkar, the RTI activist who exposed the Adarsh scam, said, “Information obtained through RTI is the government’s information and its content is 100% authentic. If that cannot be used as evidence it means that the government’s own information has no credibility. We have filed several public interest litigations based on RTI because the information is credible. If it is found that the information given is wrong, then action should be taken against the concerned authority.”
Special public prosecutor Rohini Salian, however, disagreed. She said, “Documents received by the applicant through the government body are certified and authentic but the information in those documents needs to be proven in court to be used as evidence. The public information officer may send the information from the records but whether the content can be used as evidence depends on the examination of the officer and the information that was provided by the government body.”
Advocate Rizwan Merchant agreed with Salian. “How is the court supposed to believe the information? The officer has to be examined and
the information has to be proven according to the law,” he said.
Sharif Shaikh, a defence lawyer in the train blasts case, said the defence team had indeed done so. “We examined the public information officers and took every step necessary to verify the contents of the documents,” he said.
Anil Galgali, another RTI activist, said, “Whenever the government gives any information, it should be considered true. We know the government is giving us the right information as it will have put the information on record only after checking it properly.”