Once Public Authorities have put information in the public domain and put a price on accessing that information, they cannot be said to hold control of that information in terms of Section 2(j) of the RTI Act. If any application is made under RTI Act to access such already disclosed information, it would suffice if the public authority informed the applicant where and how to access that information and also the fact that it was already in the public domain.
The inference from the text of this sub-section and, especially the three expressions quoted above, is that an information to which a citizen will have a right should be shown to be a) an information which is accessible under the RTI Act and b) that it is held or is under the control of a certain public authority. This should mean that unless an information is exclusively held and controlled by a public authority, that information cannot be said to be an information accessible under the RTI Act. Inferentially it would mean that once a certain information is placed in the public domain accessible to the citizens either freely, or on payment of a pre-determined price, that information cannot be said to be ‘held’ or ‘under the control of’ the public authority and, thus would cease to be an information accessible under the RTI Act.
This interpretation is further strengthened by the provisions of the RTI Act in Sections 4(2), 4(3) and 4(4), which oblige the public authority to constantly endeavour “to take steps in accordance with the requirement of clause b of subsection 1 of the Section 4 to provide as much information suo-motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communication including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.” (Section 4 sub-section 2). This Section further elaborates the position. It states that “All materials shall be disseminated taking into consideration the cost effectiveness, local language and the most effective method of communication in that local area and the information should be easily accessible, to the extent possible in electronic format with the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, available free or at such cost of the medium or the print cost price as may be prescribed.”
The RTI Act very clearly sets the course for the evolution of the RTI regime, which is that less and less information should be progressively held by public authorities, which would be accessed under the RTI Act and more and more of such held information should be brought into the public domain suo-motu by such public authority.
Once the information is brought into the public domain it is excluded from the purview of the RTI Act and, the right to access this category of information shall be on the basis of whether the public authority discloses it free, or at such cost of the medium or the print cost price “as may be prescribed”.
The Act therefore vests in the public authority the power and the right to prescribe the mode of access to voluntarily disclosed information, i.e. either free or at a prescribed cost / price.