Question: I have asked for the following information from Air India under Section 6 of the RTI Act: The date of joining the organization and date of marriage certificate of an air hostess working with Air India. This information has been sought because I found two marriage certificates. I got a reply refusing to disclose the information citing Section 8(1)(e) and Section 11(1) of the RTI Act. Is it permissible in such circumstances?
Answer: From the facts mentioned by you, it is seen that Section 11(1) of the RTI Act has also been quoted as one of the reasons for refusal. Let me first reproduce Section 11(1) as under:
“11. Third-party information.—(1) Where a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof on a request made under this Act, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by that third party, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall, within five days from the receipt of the request, give a written notice to such third party of the request and of the fact that the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, intends to disclose the information or record, or part thereof, and invite the third party to make a submission in writing or orally, regarding whether the information should be disclosed, and such submission of the third party shall be kept in view while taking a decision about disclosure of information:
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.”
It thus appears that the Public Information Officer has treated the information sought by you as “third-party information” under Section 11(1) and has sought the objections from the air-hostess in respect of whom the information was sought. It also appears that she has perhaps objected to the disclosure of the information; the reason being the fact that had she not objected to disclosure of the information, the Public Information Officer would have provided the information to you. However, even in such a case, disclosure of information may be allowed if the public interest in disclosure outweighs in importance any possible harm or injury to the interests of such third party (except in the case of trade or commercial secrets protected by law, which is not applicable in your case).
Likewise, the officer has refused information also under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act, which is reproduced below:
“8. Exemption from disclosure of information.—(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,—
(e) information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;”
Thus, it appears that the Public Information Officer has considered the information to be held in “fiduciary relationship”. When an information is held by an authority in a fiduciary capacity, i.e., in a relationship based on trust, such information is exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(e), unless such disclosure is for a greater public interest, in which case the competent authority may have to disclose such information.
What exactly is meant by the phrase ‘information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship’ used in Section 8(1)(e)? It basically means that relationship between the information holder (in this case, Air India) and the information provider (in this case, the air hostess) has an element of trust. This implies that the information available with the authority has been held by such authority in trust and confidence of the other person. Usually, if disclosure of such information does not involve a larger public interest, then it is not obligatory for the competent authority to provide the information sought. However, as the section makes it clear if the disclosure of such information involves a larger public interest, then even such information can be disclosed.
Thus, it is seen that both under Section 11(1) as well as under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act, such information can be disclosed if the larger public interest warrants disclosure of such information.
Now, in your case, what you have asked is two things:
- Date of joining of the air hostess in Air India.
- Date of the marriage certificate of the air hostess.
I am of the considered opinion that the “date of joining” is not an information that is held in trust or which affects the privacy, since such date of joining is often known to many persons and it is even often disclosed publicly in promotion lists and gradation lists, and various other official documents, etc. So, both the above mentioned sections would not apply to this information and this information should not have been refused to you.
Secondly, you have only asked “date of the marriage certificate”, and you have not asked the “copy of the marriage certificate”. I am of the opinion that merely disclosing the “date of the marriage certificate” would not affect the privacy of the air hostess or harm her in any way. If you ask for the marriage certificate itself, then perhaps the question would have been slightly different.
In either case, if you believe that the information you are seeking would help in bringing to light some kind of foul play (such as false certificate, or some forgery, etc., which would have disentitled the air hostess to get the job, or something equally serious) suspected by you or something done against larger public interest, you may appeal to the appellate authority under the RTI Act stating as to how the information sought by you involves public interest and why such information must not be refused by taking shelter of Sections 8(1)(e) and 11(1). This is so because, as mentioned above, under both sections, if the public interest is involved in the disclosure of information, then such information can be disclosed even if it has held in fiduciary capacity or is supplied by third party and considered as confidential by such third party.