Delhi HC directs UIDAI to give copy of grievance redressal contract under RTI
The Delhi high court ruled that the entire contract, except the non-disclosure agreements and the details of the individuals covered under the agreement, can be made public
The Delhi high court ruled that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) must provide a copy of the contract with the external organisation that is charged with handling grievances on behalf of UIDAI under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
“The contracts have been entered into pursuant to the tenders and, therefore, it is necessary that there is a complete transparency regarding the way these contracts are awarded,” justice Subramonium Prasad, ruling in favour of the RTI applicant Prashant Reddy T, a lawyer, said in the order.
Reddy had filed an RTI request earlier this year asking for UIDAI’s policies or regulations about grievance redressal, whether the grievance redressal mechanism was handled inhouse or externally, a copy of the contract in case of the latter, and number and ranks of personnel allocated in the case of former. He also wanted to know the number of grievances that had been filed since January 1, 2016. UIDAI refused all information except replying that the information about its grievance redressal policy is in public domain, and that it had contracted an external organisation.
While denying details of the external organisation, UIDAI had cited Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act in its response to Reddy. This section allows the public authority to reject an RTI request if the disclosure of information, which could contain trade secrets or intellectual property, could harm the competitive position of a third party.
The First Appellate Authority and the Central Information Commission (CIC) also rejected Reddy’s first and second appeals.
The CIC, in its March order, which Reddy had challenged in the Delhi high court, called Reddy’s queries “interrogative and inquisitive” thereby needing the central public information officer (CPIO) to provide a “clarification or opinion”, which are not allowed under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act.
Despite that, the CIC directed the UIDAI CPIO to provide Reddy with the name of the external organisation, the number of personnel handling the grievance redressal mechanism and the number of complaints processed.
However, the CIC said that the copy of the contract between a public authority and a private firm could only be provided “once the contract is completed” under Section 8(1)(d) of the Act, and since Reddy had not specified the duration for which he sought the contract, the working assumption was that he was looking for a copy of the current contract.
In the Delhi high court, UIDAI had argued against making the contract public as the contract could contain information about the measures the private agency had to follow for prevention of fraud and providing remedies in case of a fraud.
The court, however, ruled that the entire contract, except the non-disclosure agreements and the details of the individuals covered under the agreement, can be made public. Confidentiality is limited to maintaining the details of the individuals to a third party, he held.
“[T]here is nothing inappropriate in disclosing of the agreements more so when the recent trend is to encourage public participation in such ventures,” the order said.
The bench had heard the case on July 18 and reserved judgement. N. Sai Vinod represented Reddy while Purshottam Sharma Tripathi and Ravi Chandra Prakash argued on behalf of the UIDAI CPIO.