Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
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The appellant filed the present appeal from a decision of the Calcutta High Court, which allowed the respondent to examine his evaluated answer sheets in a national-level secondary education certification examination that is conducted by the appellant. The Court dismissed the appeal, holding that the right to information would prevail over the objections taken on the basis of examination bye-laws.
The respondent appeared for the examination conducted by the appellant and wasn’t satisfied with his result. He filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 [“RTI Act”] to allow him to view his evaluated answer sheets. This was rejected by the appellant. So, he filed a writ petition before the Calcutta High Court, which allowed the petition.
The present appeal sought to reverse the decision of the High Court on two grounds: 1,that the examination bye-laws wouldn’t allow for such an examination, and 2, that the information was protected under the RTI Act as information held in a ‘fiduciary relationship’.
The Court recognized that the right to information was a Fundamental Right as it was an aspect of the right to freedom of expression under Article 19. In this context, the RTI Act was superior legislation that would prevail over the examination bye-laws. Therefore, the only objections that could be taken to public records being made available had to be found within the RTI Act.
Since the Central Board of Secondary Education was a public authority that did not fall within security exceptions, it would fall within the ambit of the Act. The exception of ‘fiduciary relationship’ was considered next. The Court observed that sitting in an examination wasn’t a service for a beneficiary such as lawyer-client or guardian-minor which would create an expectation of confidentiality. There was thus, no fiduciary relationship between the student and the examination body.
With respect to the examiner, it was observed that there is no fiduciary relationship with the examination body, except where the former has the papers for evaluation. After evaluation, no propriety rights continue. However, he is entitled to not have his name disclosed to the student. The remainder of the evaluated answer sheets were to be made available for inspection.
The Court noted that since the right to information was a Fundamental Right, exceptions to it must be narrowly construed. It stated that with respect to information that increases transparency, the right to information was absolute. With respect to information that doesn’t serve such purpose, efficiency of the government had to be balanced against the public interest involved. Information could also only be sought for such period as the public authority is required to maintain such records- three months in the present case.
The Court allowed the writ petition, and granted access to information.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This expands right to information in two ways- that Acts promoting right to information are ‘superior legislation’ and that exceptions to such Acts must be narrowly construed.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The decision of the Supreme Court serves as a precedent to both lower Courts and future decisions of the same Court.
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