Punjab & Haryana HC Establishes Essential Elements for RTI Orders

LI Network

Published on: 24 August 2023 at 11:00 IST

The Punjab & Haryana High Court has expressed strong disapproval of unclear and non-speaking orders issued by authorities operating under the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act).

In a recent case of Rajwinder Singh v. State of Punjab and others, Justice Vikas Bahl condemned such ambiguous orders, asserting that they contravene both the mandates of the RTI Act and established judgments of the Supreme Court and various High Courts.

The court discovered a prevalent issue in which authorities, including the first and second Appellate Authorities under the RTI Act, were consistently delivering cryptic and non-speaking orders.

Such actions were found to be in violation of the regulations outlined by higher courts, along with the fundamental principles of the 2005 Act itself.

To rectify this situation, Justice Bahl outlined a set of specific requirements that must be incorporated into orders issued by the first and second appellate authorities when divulging or withholding information under the RTI Act:

1. Explicitly indicate the specific points for which the applicant has sought information through their RTI application.

2. Provide a detailed, point-by-point response to the information requested.

3. Conclusively state whether the information for any of the specified points has been furnished. If supplied, specify the exact date of disclosure.

4. If the authorities’ stance is that information cannot be provided due to RTI Act restrictions or any other grounds, this reason should be explicitly documented along with a clear representation of the authority’s assessment of the parties’ arguments.

5. Record any additional pertinent observations that the authority deems necessary based on the case’s circumstances.

Additionally, the Chief Secretaries of Punjab and Haryana, along with the advisor to the administrator of Chandigarh, were directed to disseminate copies of this judgment to RTI authorities to ensure their compliance.

The High Court’s judgment was rendered while addressing a petition brought by Rajwinder Singh, challenging a decision made by the Punjab State Information Commission (SIC).

In response, the Court recommended that the SIC reevaluate the RTI appeal due to the prior order’s lack of substantive reasoning.

Justice Bahl emphasized the requirement for self-explanatory orders containing robust justifications rather than generic, standardized rationales.

The court reinforced that the SIC holds quasi-judicial status and is thus obligated to issue well-reasoned decisions. While remanding the case back to the RTI authority for reconsideration, the Court clarified that its decision did not constitute a final determination of the case’s merits.

Advocate Amandeep Singh Saini represented the petitioner, while Senior Deputy Advocate General of Punjab, Rohit Bansal, appeared on behalf of the State authorities.

This ruling serves as a clear directive to ensure transparency and accountability within the functioning of RTI authorities in the region.

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