Non-citizens are not prohibited from seeking information under the RTI Act: Delhi High Court

According to the Delhi High Court, non-citizens are not precluded from accessing information from public bodies under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, and it would be inherently illogical to find that such a right is exclusively available to citizens.

The court ruled that imposing an absolute prohibition on the disclosure of information to non-citizens would be antithetical to the purpose and object of the RTI Act itself and that such a prohibition cannot be read into the legislation.

According to the court, the RTI Act places a high value on access to information that may pertain to a person’s life or liberty.

It went on to say that denying non-citizens access to information — on whom the Indian Constitution bestows a “limited bouquet of rights” — would likewise be antithetical to fundamental norms.

“Considering that the RTI Act also affords information relating to life or liberty a vital and special status, it would be intrinsically paradoxical to declare that only citizens are entitled to the Right to Information. “Life or liberty could also refer to non-citizens such as foreigners, NRIs, OCI card holders, and such persons,” Judge Prathiba M Singh stated in a recent order.

“In the event of such public bodies dealing with issues pertaining to non-citizens, if there is delay or lack of transparency in their dealings, it cannot be held that such a non-citizen would be barred from accessing such information under the RTI Act,” the judge stated.

The court stated that whether the information sought by a non-citizen ought to be disclosed must be left to the relevant authorities discretion, which will decide based on the facts, situation, and surrounding circumstances.

In this case, a Tibetan national sought information from the Central Tibetan Schools Administration. He further claimed that under the Citizenship Act, he was entitled to be considered an Indian citizen.

While ruling in favour of the RTI applicant, the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) imposed a penalty on the petitioner — the public information officer of the body who had refused to provide the information on the grounds that he was a Tibetan national and thus would not be entitled to invoke the provisions of the RTI Act.

The court observed in the judgement that the RTI Act utilised the phrases “citizen” and “person” and that the CIC was correct in holding that there is no absolute restriction if the authority thinks it appropriate to release the information.

“In India, public authorities, as defined under the RTI Act, interact with both citizens and non-citizens. While it is acceptable to hold that the right to information is conferred on all citizens in general, it cannot be held that there is an absolute prohibition on disclosing information to non-citizens,” the court said.

“This court believes that the Right to Information should be open to citizens and non-citizens depending on the type of information sought, as well as recognition of the rights provided to such a class of persons under the Indian Constitution,” it added.

The court stated that the safeguards/exceptions given in the RTI Act would apply to any information sought by citizens or non-citizens.

Court stated that the PIO’s approach of thinking that a non-citizen would not be entitled to information under the RTI Act could not be considered malicious and dismissed the CIC’s penalty of Rs 25,000.

The court further stated that the PIO is obliged by the CIC’s ruling and must thus provide the applicant with the information.

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Hi, my name is Nisha and I'm an educational journalist based in India. I've always been passionate about the power of education to transform lives, and that's what led me to pursue a career in journalism focused on this area. I completed my Bachelor's degree in English from Hindu College in Delhi in 2013 and then went on to earn my Master's in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in 2017. During my studies, I also completed several short-term courses on Education in India, Sociology, and other related subjects to deepen my knowledge in this field. I'm particularly interested in improving access to quality education in rural areas, where students often face significant challenges. I've worked on a number of initiatives to address this issue, including advocating for better policies, resources, and practices that can make a difference. As an educational journalist, I'm passionate about using my platform to highlight important issues in the education space. I've covered a wide range of topics, including the impact of technology in the classroom, innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and the challenges facing students from marginalized communities. One of the things I love most about my work is the opportunity to constantly learn and grow. I'm an avid reader and believe that reading is key to expanding one's knowledge and perspective. I'm always seeking out new ideas and insights to help me better understand the world around me. In summary, as an educational journalist, I'm dedicated to using my skills and expertise to make a positive impact in the field of education. I'm committed to improving access to quality education for all students and to using my platform to raise awareness about important issues in this area.

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