New Delhi: Annual Confidential Reports of government officials are not personal information and they should be provided to the public under the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission has said.

The case relates to RTI applicant V R Sharma who had sought detail of ACRs of about 17 officials including his own, but the Labour Ministry allowed him access to only his ACR.

The department while refusing information about other officials said the ACRs are personal information of an officer and are exempted under the RTI Act from disclosure.

Overruling the arguments of the Ministry, Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said preparation of ACR is a public activity in which performance of an official is evaluated.

"Disclosure of such information cannot be construed as unwarranted invasion of privacy of the officer concerned as it concerns issues raised in the exercise of his public activity as a public servant. Moreover, a public servant is accountable to the public and therefore, every citizen has the right to obtain information that may assess his credibility, integrity and performance," Gandhi held.

He said disclosure of information such as property details, any conviction or acquittal of criminal charges of a public servant and similar information, routinely collected by the public authority and provided by the public servants, cannot be construed as an invasion of the privacy of an individual and must be provided an applicant under the RTI Act.

"Citizens have a right to know about the strengths and weaknesses, as well as performance evaluation of all public servants...The salary of such government officers is also paid from the public exchequer.

"For these reasons, every citizen has the right to know and obtain information about the performance of every public servant or government officer to ascertain whether the duties entrusted to such public servant or government officer are being carried out," Gandhi said.

The RTI Act endeavours to do away with the notion of 'secrecy' which was prevalent in the British era and carried forwarded thereafter as Section 22 of the Act specifically provides that the Act shall override the Official Secrets Act, 1923 irrespective of any inconsistency contained in the latter, he said while directing the ministry to disclose all the information.

(Agencies)