While interpreting the provisions of the Right to Information Act, the Himachal High Court has held that public authorities are bound to disclose annual confidential reports (ACRs) to the employees concerned and denial thereof is bad in law. The court observed that while dealing with an issue that involves disclosure of names of the reporting officer, first and second review/accepting authority and the authors of the annual confidential reports, the information officers are bound to provide such information.
A division bench comprising justices Sanjay Karol and VK Sharma observed: "We are of the considered view that not only an employee
has the constitutional and statutory right to obtain the information sought, but also employers have a corresponding legal duty to disclose the same".
The bench further observed that "the objective of the Right to Information Act is to bring transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities. The Act confers a right on citizens to access information from a public authority, which is obliged to facilitate this right. It is a constitutional right. All entries in the ACRs of a public servant must be communicated".
The bench further said that "the information supplied would only be conducive for fairness and transparency in public administration resulting in fairness to public servants. If transparency is to be brought in the functioning of public authorities and public servants are to be held accountable, disclosure of ACRs to the employees concerned cannot be denied".
In the instant case, the applicant had sought information with reference to his annual confidential reports pertaining to different periods but the employer had refused to furnish them on the ground that there was a fiduciary relationship between the employer and the reporting/reviewing authority and, as such, their particulars could not be disclosed.
Vexed at this response, the applicant filed an appeal that was rejected by the appellate authority. He then relentlessly pursued the matter with the Central Information Commission (CIC), which directed the employer - State Bank of India - to furnish the required information to the applicant. The bank then filed a petition before the court.
The court dismissed the petition with the observation that not only an employee has the constitutional and statutory right to obtain information that has been sought but employers also have a corresponding legal duty to disclose the same.