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Absolute transparency in all facets of government 'neither feasible nor desirable': SC

twitter-logoPTI | November 13, 2019 | Updated 22:23 IST

By Sanjeev Kumar New Delhi, Nov 13 (PTI) Absolute transparency in all facets of government is "neither feasible nor desirable", the Supreme Court said on Wednesday while holding that the office of the Chief Justice Of India (CJI) falls under the ambit of the Right to Infirmation Act. Referring to right to privacy, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, "If one's right to know is absolute, then the same may invade another's right to privacy and breach confidentiality." "And, therefore, the former right has to be harmonised with the need for personal privacy, confidentiality of information and effective governance," said Justice Sanjiv Khanna, writing the judgement on behalf of the CJI, Justice Deepak Gupta and himself. Batting for balancing of right to know with that of privacy rights, it said most jurists would accept that "absolute transparency in all facets of government is neither feasible nor desirable, for there are several limitations on complete disclosure of governmental information, especially in matters relating to national security, diplomatic relations, internal security or sensitive diplomatic correspondence." Referring to judicial precedents, Justice Khanna said, "In our opinion ...personal records, including name, address, physical, mental and psychological status, marks obtained, grades and answer sheets, are all treated as personal information." The judgement then referred to information which can be said to be personal information. Professional records, including qualification, performance, evaluation reports, ACRs, disciplinary proceedings are all personal information, it said. "Medical records, treatment, choice of medicine, list of hospitals and doctors visited, findings recorded, including that of the family members, information relating to assets, liabilities, income tax returns, details of investments, lending and borrowing, etc. are personal information," it said. These personal information are "entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy and conditional access is available when stipulation of larger public interest is satisfied," it said, adding that the list is "indicative and not exhaustive". The verdict also highlighted the relevance of confidentiality in the government and its functioning. "However, this is not to state that plea of confidentiality is an absolute bar, for in terms of proviso to Section 11(1) of the RTI Act, the PIO has to undertake the balancing exercise and weigh the advantages and benefits of disclosing the information with the possible harm or injury to the third party on the information being disclosed," it said. Confidentiality may have some bearing and importance in ensuring honest and fair appraisals, though it could work the other way around also, it said. "Therefore, what should be disclosed would depend on authentic enquiry relating to the public interest, that is, whether the right to access and the right to know outweighs the possible public interest in protecting privacy or outweighs the harm and injury to third parties when the information relates to such third parties or the information is confidential in nature," it said. The apex court, in its verdict, dealt with issues like competent and public authority , information under RTI and the right to privacy in relation to judicial independence. PTI SJK ABA MNL RKS SJK TIR TIR

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