2 Dec 2010

Religion followed by a person not information: High Court

In a recent decision the High Court of Punjab and Haryana has dismissed an appeal against the rejection of prayer for supply of information wherein the claimant has requested for supply of information regarding the religion followed by certain public figures / leaders of information. The information had been sought from the Registrar General, Census Operations, New Delhi alleging that the persons about whom the information was sought were leaders of the nation and the information regarding their religion was sought in public interest. However the application had been rejected on the ground that "for preparing census, facts are collected from individuals in a household, which are confidential in nature and used only for statistical purposes".

Vindicating the stand of the authority, the High Court declared that there was no public interest element in such information. The High Court inter alia observed;
8. The sum and substance of the appellant's plea is that the person in respect of whom information is sought are important public figures and he as a citizen is entitled to know the religion practiced by them. We are unable to agree with the appellant. The appellant seeks to know the religion disclosed by important public figures to the Census Authorities. Since this information is disclosed to the authorities in the census operation, such information is consequently covered by the mandate of the Census Act and in particular Section 15 of the said Act already extracted above. The appellant's plea is that Section 22 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 overrides the provisions of Section 15 of the Census Act and hence disclosure of the information sought by the appellant cannot be withheld. 
9. In our view, the provisions of Section 15 of the Census Act, 1948 are not inconsistent with provisions of Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and both can be read harmoniously. Accordingly, Section 22 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 will not come into operation and cannot sustain the pleas of the appellant. Further more, it is apparent that the appellant is wanting to elicit information about the religion of such public persons. India being a socialist, democratic and secular democratic republic, the quest to obtain the information about the religion professed or not professed by a citizen cannot be in any event, be considered to be in public interest, which information is strictly confidential as per Section 15 of the Census Act, 1948. Mere terming of the members of the 'family' in respect of which the information is sought as public figures and the leaders of nation, cannot change the statutory impact of the above provisions. It is thus evident that the petitioner is making efforts to make unjustified inroads into the privacy of said individuals even if they are public figures. Consequently, the information supplied to the Census Officer cannot be made public in view of the statutory bar imposed by Section 15 of the Census Act which is not inconsistent with Section 22 read with section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. Accordingly, we find no merit in this appeal which stands dismissed.

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