Mumbai: Merely because there is a staff crunch in various deparments of the Maharashtra government, it cannot deny information to citizens under the Right To Information (RTI) act, ruled the Bombay High Court recently. The HC further said since the right to information is a constitutional right within the right to speech and expression, the government cannot deny information to the public.
A bench of Justices Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari and Riyaz Chagla was hearing a petition seeking effective enforcement and implementation of the RTI act of 2005.
While hearing the matter, the bench said that several orders have been passed from time to time to ensure that this enactment does not become a dead letter.
"The enactment is in larger public interest. It is not as if the right to information is a right derived by the citizens from the RTI Act, 2005. Be it known to everybody that right to information is implicit and inbuilt in the right and freedom guaranteed to a citizen under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India," Justice Dharmadhikari observed.
"The right to free speech and expression includes within it the right to obtain information. That is how this constitutionally recognised and permitted right is made meaningful and its enforcement is now serving a larger public purpose," Justice Dharmadhikari added
The bench further noted that the government usually finds itself in a fix as thousands of applications under RTI are made almost on a daily basis.
"As far as the state government is concerned, it was handicapped for want of staff. On account of this PIL and certain directions by the Supreme Court, now the Recruitment Rules have been framed," the judges noted.
The bench further took into account the affidavit filed by the government stating that it would duly abide by these Rules and fill up the posts or vacancies arising from time to time.
"The affidavit informs us that the process is ongoing and merely because there are vacancies, the state government or the machinery will not deny information to the members of the public if that is otherwise to be made available," the bench said.
"In other words, save and except the exceptions carved out by the law, the information will be provided and in a timely and orderly manner. For that purpose, staff will be recruited," the bench noted.
According to the government records, out of the total 138 sanctioned posts for information officers, it has filled in 124 posts while 14 are still lying vacant.
The judges while adjourning the matter for further hearing till January 2020, ordered the government to fill up these 14 posts at the earliest.