A bench of Justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna of the Supreme Court directed the Delhi High Court to ascertain if the applicability of the Right to Information Act extends to intelligence and security organisations of the government. The court further set aside the high court's order directing a department to furnish information on seniority and promotions to an employee within 15 days. The bench said that the high court passed the directions without deciding on the objection of the government department that the RTI Act was not applicable to it.
"It is the specific case on behalf of the department that the RTI Act was not applicable to the organisation/department. Despite the above and without deciding such an objection, the high court has directed the appellant to furnish the documents sought under the RTI Act without deciding the applicability of the RTI Act. That will be putting the cart before the horse," the bench said while hearing an appeal filed by the Centre against the 2018 decision of the high court. The bench also noted that the high court must have decided the issue based on the applicability of the RTI act to the organisation or department.
"We direct the high court to first decide the issue with respect to the applicability of the RTI Act to the appellant organisation/department and thereafter decide the stay application/LPA. The aforesaid exercise shall be completed within a period of eight weeks," the bench said.
The counsel appearing on behalf of the Centre had told the HC that the department from which information was sought is exempted as per Section 24(1) of the RTI Act, 2005. Hence, the CIC order is illegal and contradictory to the provisions of Section 24 of the RTI Act, he said. Section 24 exempts certain intelligence and security organisations from the ambit of RTI except for information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.
The High Court, however, noted that the information sought by the employee neither hampers with intelligence nor security nor secrecy of the organisation. Instead, he was facing prejudices regarding seniority and hence the request.
"Though the petitioner organisation is kept away from RTI Act, but that is not regarding the information to its employee, if any of his rights have been denied. The information sought by the respondent from the petitioner does not come under Section 24 of the Act," the high court had said.