Millennium Post

EVMs are 'information' under RTI Act: Central Info panel

New Delhi: An Electronic Voting Machine is "information" under the Right to Information Act and can be demanded by an applicant from the Election Commission of India on a payment of Rs 10, the Central Information Commission has ruled.

This implies the Election Commission has to respond to an RTI application seeking the EVM either by providing it or refusing it under exemption clauses in the Act. But that also can be contested before the CIC, the highest adjudicating authority in RTI matters.

Deciding a unique RTI application, through which the applicant had sought an EVM from the Election Commission, Chief Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava recently said the machine was covered under the definition of "information" and can be demanded from the ECI.

The Election Commission had rejected the application saying the EVMs held by it do not come under the definition of "information".

The applicant, Rajaak Khan Haider, approached the CIC with a strong argument that as per Section 2(f) and 2(i) of the RTI Act, the definition of 'information' and 'record' also includes 'any model or any sample' held by a public authority, calling the rejection as wrong. Section 2(f) of the RTI Act defines 'Information' as any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.

The Election Commission representative admitted that model and samples of the machines are available with it but the same are only kept for training purpose, and not saleable to the general public.

Tendering unconditional apology for rejection, the Election Commission representative agreed that it was wrong on its part but reiterated that EVMs did not come under the definition of information, an argument rejected by Bhargava.

"The EVM which is available with the Election Commission in a material form and also as samples, as admitted by the respondent (ECI) during the hearing, is an information under the RTI Act," the CIC ruled. In the next sentence, however, the Commission tried to nip in the bud any aspiration of accessing the machine underlining the second contention of the EC that the software installed on these machines is an intellectual property of a third party, the disclosure of which would harm its competitive position. The CIC, however, did not give any view whether it was upholding or rejecting the EC's position on commercial confidence leaving a grey area which can be pursued further by any applicant.

An information can be denied by a public authority if it attracts any exemption clauses listed in the RTI Act which also exempts information pertaining to commercial confidence or intellectual property from disclosure.

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