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No bar on Tibetan refugees, others seeking information under India’s RTI Act

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(TibetanReview.net, Mar16’23) – While not an absolute right, Tibetan refugees and other foreigners too are entitled to seek information under India’s Right to Information (RTI) Act in certain cases, the Delhi High Court has ruled this week.

Dawa Tashi, a teacher at Darjeeling’s Central School for Tibetans, had in 2014 had filed an application seeking information related to his service. The Central Tibetan Schools Administration (CTSA) denied his request, with its Public Information Officer citing Section 3 of the RTI Act.

Section 3 of the RTI Act states all “citizens” shall have the right to information.

Justice Pratibha M Singh has said it would be inherently contradictory to hold that only citizens are entitled to the Right to Information, considering that the RTI Act accords information relating to life or liberty an important and distinct position.

Justice Singh has ruled that while Section 3 would have to be read as positive recognition of the right in favour of citizens, it cannot be seen as a prohibition against non-citizens.

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However, the court has emphasized that in case of non-citizens, authorities would have the discretion on the issue of disclosing such information.

The ruling also does not seem to suggest that a foreigner can seek “any” information under the Act, noted the livelaw.in Mar 15.

* * *

The question is, in what situations can a non-citizen seek information under the RTI Act?

Justice Singh has said that the Constitution of India confers a large number of rights on citizens but there are some rights for non-citizens also. She has referred to travel related permissions, OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card, Visas, Refugees, asylum seekers, property related issues concerning persons of Indian origin who may not be citizens, extradition related information, etc.

The court has said that in all such situations, non-citizens would have some contact with the public authorities, and an absolute bar on disclosure of information “would be contrary to the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India which recognizes some rights of even non-citizens”.

The court has cited the example of Article 21 of the Constitution, which is available to “all persons”. In this connection, Justice Singh has cited the proviso to Section 7(1) of the RTI Act which states that information relating to life or liberty of a person is to be disclosed within 48 hours.

“Life or liberty could also relate to non-citizens including foreigners, NRI’s, OCI card holders and such other persons,” the court has pointed out.

Justice Singh has also said that where there is inaction or lack of transparency on the part of public authorities dealing with “issues concerning non-citizens”, it cannot be held that such a non-citizen can’t seek information under the RTI Act.

“It would be left to the discretion of the authority concerned to decide depending upon the facts, situation and the surrounding circumstances as to whether the information deserves to be disclosed or not. Creating an absolute bar would be contrary to the purpose and object of the RTI Act itself, and such an absolute bar cannot be read into the RTI Act,” the court has said.

“This Court is of the opinion that the Right to Information ought to be available to citizens and non-citizens depending upon the kind of information which is sought and the recognition of the rights guaranteed to such class of persons under the Constitution of India,” Justice Singh has said.

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