While disposing of the appeal filed by one Dr. Sanjeev Goel against the order of Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), M/o External Affairs, New Delhi, Information Commissioner Neeraj Kumar Gupta of the Central Information Commission (CIC) dismissed the appeal and denied the applicant information regarding Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s Passport details and religion. Rahul Gandhi is the former Indian National Congress Party President and Current Member of Parliament from Wayanad Constituency.
By his application filed under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act), the appellant had sought the following information regarding Rahul Gandhi.
- How many passports have been issued by any Government in the world to Mr. Rahul Gandhi or alias, if any, bearing photograph of Mr. Rahul Gandhi, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, India?
- If more than one passport has been issued bearing his photograph, address and details of all passports be provided.
- What was his religion at the time of birth?
- What is his religion by virtue of his faith at present?
The appellant had informed the CIC that Mr. Rahul Gandhi is a ‘public servant’ as per the provisions of Section 2(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and the information which cannot be denied to the parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.
He further contended that as Mr. Rahul Gandhi is already on bail in a criminal case, he should declare details of all passports issued to him by any country in the world in his name as he can jump his bail by using other passports, if, he possesses more than one passport i.e. passport issued by authorities of various countries.
Regarding Rahul Gandhi’s religion he contended that Mr. Gandhi being a public figure, appellant has a right to know his religion. He also contended that this information can also be availed as it can be deemed to be in “public interest”.
His submissions were countered by the respondent CPIO by relying on Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 which is as follows:
Section 8.(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,—
(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information:
Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.
The respondent had submitted that no larger public interest was involved in seeking this information and disclosure of the information sought would cause unwarranted invasion of the third party’s privacy as it is basic fundamental right vide decision of the Constitutional Bench in K. S. Puttaswamy and Another v. Union of India and Others, [(2017) 10 SCC 1].
To arrive at its judgement, the CIC had to look into the proviso of S 11(1) which relates to the information sought from the third person. The proviso is as follows:
“Provided that except in the case of trade or commercial secrets protected by law, disclosure may be allowed if the public interest in disclosure outweighs in importance any possible harm or injury to the interests of such third party.”
The CIC relied on many judgments of the Supreme Court, Central Information Commission and courts from other common law jurisdictions to understand what constitutes “public interest” and the limits to the “right to privacy”.
The CIC observed that the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Civil Appeal No. 10044 of 2010 & Ors. dated 13-11-2019 titled as CPIO, Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal had held that:
“The public interest test in the context of the RTI Act would mean reflecting upon the object and purpose behind the right to information, the right to privacy and consequences of invasion, and breach of confidentiality and possible harm and injury that would be caused to the third party, with reference to particular information and the person.”
Concluding the judgement Commissioner stated,
“[t]his Commission observes that the contentions put forth by the appellant with regards to ‘public interest’ element on the premise of Mr. Rahul Gandhi being a public figure does not stand a chance for disclosure of his personal information such as religion and passport details. Furthermore, the appellant has also failed to substantiate that the information sought is in line with the proviso appended to Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005. Hence, in the absence of any larger public interest in the matter, this Commission comes to a conclusion that the information sought by the appellant qualifies to be the ‘personal information’ of the third party which is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 and therefore, it cannot be provided to the appellant.”