Making public the video recording of the state assembly proceedings, is not breach of privilege: Kerala SIC

According to the state information commission, the speaker should have the last word in deciding what amounted to breach of the house.

danish

Danish Raza | April 29, 2010


RTI activists on a demonstration outside Kerala state assembly
RTI activists on a demonstration outside Kerala state assembly

In April 2008, Kochi based advocate D.B. Binu filed an application in the Kerala legislative assembly, legislature secretariat, under the Right to Information act. Binu demanded two items from the State Public Information Officer (SPIO) A transcript of the speech delivered by T.M. Jacob on 19 August, 2005 and a video recording of the same. While the SPIO gave him the print copy of the speech, the video tape of the same was denied under section 8(1) (c) of the RTI Act. As per this section, the information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature, will not be disclosed. In other words, the information was denied on the grounds that it would lead to breach of privilege. The applicant approached the Kerala state information commission, which had two broad questions to consider in this case. a) whether video tape fell within the meaning of ‘information’ as per RTI Act? And b) whether section 8 (1) (c) was applicable in denying the information? The SIC referred to section 2 (f) of the RTI act, which says that the definition of 'information’ includes 'records' and 'data material held in electronic form' ‘Record’, as per the act, is any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm (whether enlarged or not). Hence, video ntape fell within the definition of information. “Therefore, there was no dispute with regard to question that video tape is a form of record and now a days recording of the procedures in the House of Parliament and State Legislatures had become very common and live telecast was accessible and open to the World. Therefore, the Commission finds that the first item of information demanded was very well within the meaning of RTI Act.” To the question that whether information should be denied to the applicant under section 8 (1)(c) or not, the commission was of the view that the speaker of the assembly was the competent authority in the legislative assembly. So, the speaker was the ultimate authority to decide the question of privilege and what all interest constituted privilege. “And, the privileges as extended to a member of a House are essentially to enable the Member to discharge his duties and responsibilities as an elected representative of the people,’ the SIC observed adding that the denial of the video tape was not justifiable because of the rational used in the denial was equally available for denying of the print copy also. The SPIO admitted before the commission that the ethics and privileges committee had refused to provide the video tape to the applicant. The high court, the SPIO informed, was considering the question of admissibility of an evidence of the video tape in a particular case. The information officer added that that the speaker was authorized to expunge, edit, delete or remove any word, sentence or such other portions from the speech as he deemed necessary to uphold the privileges and noble heritage of the house. In other words, the printed copy of the speech was an edited version scrutinized by the speaker. After hearing both the sides, the information commission, on December 10, 2009, ruled that in the situation when every proceeding of the house was telecast live an edited copy of the video tape would do no harm. “It is not at all an encroachment into the privilege, had it been approved for publication by the Speaker. Prohibition for providing any piece lof information is to be made by the Speaker and it is unquestionable and unchallengeable,” the ruled the bench comprising chief information commissioner Palatmohan Das and state information commissioner P. Vijayakumar. “When a citizen as provided with the right to such information under the RTI Act, 2005 enacted, drawing strength from Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India, such information as defined under Section 2 (f) under the Act (ibid) cannot be denied, on whatever institutional set up or deliberations, that be,” it added, directing the SPIO to provide a copy of the video tape to the applicant within 15 days.

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