The Kerala High Court verdict holding that the information authority under the police cannot shield the names of officers who have been found guilty or dismissed from service on charges of corruption or human rights violations has brought cheers to Right to Information (RTI) and human rights activists.
Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan passed the verdict while disposing of a petition filed by the State Public Information Officer (Deputy Superintendent of Police) and Appellate Authority (Superintendent of Police) of the Crime Records Bureau, Thiruvananthapuram, against the State Information Commission’s directive to publish details of corrupt officers who are found guilty in a court of law or dismissed from service on charges of corruption and human rights violations and also upload the names of the officers against whom charges of corruption or human rights violation are established through investigation on the website of the police.
The court, however, ordered that the details of officers against whom the offences had been established on investigation, but a conclusive finding has not been arrived at by a court of law need not be published.
The court upheld the other directives of the State Information Commission to publish the names of officers convicted on corruption or human rights violations such as wrongful confinement, sexual abuse, rape, and use of abusive languages and were removed from services after a due process of inquiry.
The High Court also ordered that these directives be strictly complied with.
The court added that the police information authority “will not be justified in shielding the names of such officers and will be bound to publish the same” notwithstanding the fact that Section 4 of the RTI Act did not oblige them to publish such information.
The court observed that the information authority would have to bear in mind that while dealing with information not falling within Section 4(1)(b) and (c) of the RTI Act “the authorities cannot read the exemptions in a restrictive manner,” but should be read in a practical manner so that public interest was preserved and the RTI Act attains a fine balance between its goal of attaining transparency of information and safeguarding the public interest.
The petitioners contended that if the information sought by the RTI activists was disclosed to the public it would demoralise the entire police force. Besides, a person against whom a finding of guilt had not been arrived at by a court of law was presumed to be innocent. Therefore, the State Commission was not justified in ordering the disclosure of the names and details of those police officers against whom the final report had not been laid.