The Delhi High Court has upheld an order passed by Central Information Commission (CIC) which denied information to a husband about complaints lodged by his estranged wife against her two previous husbands and their family members under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Justice Pratibha M Singh observed that since the information sought details not only for the wife but also her previous husbands and other persons against whom complaints were registered, exemption under sec. 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act will be applicable in the matter. The court thus observed,
Thus, the privacy which is to be considered in this case is not just the privacy of Respondent No.4 alone, but in fact, that of the said husbands against whom complaints were filed as well as the in-laws etc.
The personal information in this case does not relate only to the Petitioner or Respondent No.4 but also to those other persons who were the subject matter of the said complaints and FIR. Thus, the exception under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 would clearly apply in the present case.
The petitioner (3rd husband) married the woman in December 2017 and soon matrimonial disputes arose between the couple after which various complaints were filed by the parties.
A suit was filed by the husband seeking a decree of nullity of marriage on the ground that their marriage was voidable as being violative of Section 25(iii) of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Additionally, a criminal complaint was filed by the wife under Section 498A, 406, 377 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in which Charge Sheet was filed against the petitioner and his family members.
In the present case, the third husband had filed four RTI applications – who happens to be the petitioner – seeking information about the complaints registered by his estranged wife against her previous two husbands. (husband no. 1 & husband no. 2).
The CPIO, Special Police Unit for Women and Children had rejected husband’s RTI requests on the ground that the disclosure of the said information would be barred under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005. The official reply stated,
Copy of requisite documents can’t be provided as per section 8(1) (j) of RTI Act, 2005 as disclosure of same would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual and there is no larger public interest in disclosing the information.
In the first appeal filed by the husband, the First Appellate Authority again rejected his request vide order dated September 12, 2018.
Appeal No. 2
A second appeal was therefore filed by the husband before CIC challenging the first appeal order. Vide order dated January 5, 2021, the CIC upheld that the information sought was covered under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.
During the proceedings before the First Appellate Authority, a short status report was filed by the Delhi Police wherein the details of the first, second and third complaints of the respondent-wife filed against both her ex-husbands and the present husband i.e., the petitioner, were revealed before the Appellate Authority.
Allegations by Third Husband
It was thus the case of the petitioner husband that the wife had already undergone two marriages and the third marriage was with him. In view of this, Advocate Sachin Datta submitted that the wife indulged in fraud against his client as almost identical allegations were levelled by her against all three husbands.
Furthermore, the petitioner-husband argued that if the information had no relation to any public activity and it is necessary to disclose it in larger public interest, the said information should be disclosed under the RTI Act.
The respondent GNCTD submitted that the petitioner sought sensitive information relating to the offences alleged against the ex-husbands under Section 498A and Section 377 of IPC. Therefore, it was argued that FIRs ought not to be published in public domain. Advocate Tara Narula said,
The events which transpired during the mediation proceedings and the mediator’s reports, especially in matrimonial proceedings, are all confidential in nature and cannot be disclosed to any third party.
Delhi High Court
The court emphasised on the privacy of previous husbands and their families and quoted:
A perusal of all these FIRs and complaints therein would show that allegations have been made by the Respondent No. 4 (wife) against both her ex-husbands as also the in-laws etc. Thus, the privacy which is to be considered in this case is not just the privacy of Respondent No.4 alone, but in fact, that of the said husbands against whom complaints were filed as well as the in-laws etc.
The personal information in this case does not relate only to the Petitioner or Respondent No.4 but also to those other persons who were the subject matter of the said complaints and FIR.
Noting that the petitioner husband was already in possession of the status report, the Court said:
This status report, combined with the remedies which are available to the Petitioner, clearly show that the Petitioner is not remediless in respect of the information which is sought.
Accordingly, this Court is of the opinion that the impugned order does not warrant any interference in as much as the information sought is governed by Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, the fact that these petitions have been rejected would not in any manner adversely affect the Petitioner’s rights to seek his remedies in accordance with law, both before the Calcutta High Court and before the Mahila Court, Dwarka, Delhi where the criminal complaint filed by Respondent No.4 against the Petitioner, is pending.
The Court however permitted the petitioner husband to place open status reports, provided by the Delhi Police, before the appropriate fora for seeking summoning of the remaining relevant records which shall be considered by the courts in accordance with law.
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