What is larger public interest under the RTI Act?

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

Article | RTI

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The Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 of India, was enacted to provide citizens with a legal mechanism for requesting and obtaining information held by the government. The act provides for the release of information that is in the larger public interest, which is a key principle underlying the act.

Concept of “larger public interest”

The concept of “larger public interest” is defined in Section 8(2) of the RTI Act as “larger public interest includes such matters in which the public at large has a right to know or which are in the interest of the public to know.” This means that information can be disclosed if it is in the interest of the public to know, or if the public at large has a right to know the information.

“Larger public interest” under the RTI Act refers to the general welfare of the public at large, rather than the interests of an individual or a group of individuals. This means that information that is considered to be in larger public interest is information that would have a significant impact on the well-being of the general population. This can include information about government policies, programs and schemes, public services, infrastructure, environment, and other matters of public importance.

For example, information about the quality of water supply in a particular area, the status of a public hospital, or the number of people who have benefited from a government scheme would be considered to be in larger public interest. Similarly, information about the number of schools and hospitals in a particular area, the availability of public transport, or the quality of air in a particular city would be considered to be in larger public interest.

One of the main reasons for the inclusion of the concept of larger public interest in the RTI Act is to balance the right to information with the need to protect certain sensitive information. For example, information that may be sensitive to national security or personal privacy may not be disclosed if it would not serve a larger public interest. Some examples of information that may be considered to be in larger public interest include:

  • Information related to public health and safety, such as information about the spread of diseases or the safety of food and water.
  • Information about government policies and programs, such as information about how public funds are being used.
  • Information about corruption and mismanagement within the government, as it is in the interest of the public to know about any illegal or unethical activities that may be taking place.
  • Information about the environment and natural resources, as it is in the interest of the public to know about any potential threats to the environment and how the government is addressing them.
  • Information about the functioning and decision making of public institutions.

Larger public interest is not absolute

However, it’s important to note that the concept of larger public interest is not absolute and can be interpreted differently by different people, it’s subject to the interpretation of the information commission and the court. Therefore, it is open to different interpretations and the decision of whether or not to release information is often made on a case-by-case basis.

In practice, when assessing whether or not to disclose information under the RTI Act, decision-makers must consider both the public interest in disclosure and the potential harm that could result from disclosure. If the public interest in disclosure outweighs any potential harm, then the information will be released.

The RTI Act also provides for the protection of sensitive information, such as information that may be prejudicial to national security, the conduct of international affairs, or the economic interests of the state. The Act allows for certain exemptions to the right to information in the interest of larger public interest.

These exemptions include information that is classified as secret or confidential by the government, information that would endanger the life or physical safety of an individual, or information that would impede the process of investigation or apprehension of an offender.

However, even in such cases, the public interest in obtaining the information must be weighed against the harm that would be caused by the release of the information. The Act provides for a public interest test to be conducted to determine whether the information should be disclosed. This test takes into account the public interest in obtaining the information, as well as the potential harm that could result from the disclosure of the information.

Additionally, the Act also provides for an appellate mechanism, where an individual can appeal to a higher authority if their request for information is denied. The appellate authority has the power to overrule the decision of the lower authority and can order the release of information if it is deemed to be in larger public interest.

In conclusion, “larger public interest” under the RTI Act refers to the general welfare of the public at large and it includes the information that would have a significant impact on the well-being of the general population. The Act allows for certain exemptions to the right to information in the interest of larger public interest, but it also provides for a public interest test and an appellate mechanism to ensure that the information is disclosed in the larger public interest.