DoPT asks PIOs not to divulge personal info of RTI applicants

In a move welcomed by many, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has issued guidelines restraining Public Information Officers (PIOs) from disclosing or sharing details of the information sought under Right to Information (RTI) Act.

On October 25, Newsline had highlighted the trend in Maharashtra wherein PIOs sent original RTI applications seeking details of licences and MoUs signed by the state government and the companies to the companies asking them to send the information directly to the applicant.

When the Newsline had applied for a copy of the MoU signed by a private telecommunication giant and the state government, the PIO of the department of industries, labour and energy had forwarded the same directly to the company in question.

The covering note attached to the application directed the company to directly send the answer to the applicant. Similar incidents were reported by other RTI users who had asked for similar details from Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and other departments.

This trend was criticised by RTI activist Commodore (Rtd) Lokesh Batra. He had written to the DoPT asking for guidelines for PIOs to stop disclosing such information. Batra, in his letter to secretary, DoPT, said that this in contravention with Section 2 (f) and 6(3) of the RTI Act.

He pointed out that these sections of the Act make it mandatory for the PIO to collect information and, if need be, transfer the applications to public authorities. "Private companies do not constitute public authorities, and thus, applications can't be transferred to them. It is for the public authority to collect the information without disclosing the identity of the information seeker," the letter said.

Batra had followed up the issue with the department and had pointed out how on November 20 the Kolkata High Court forbade the disclosure of personal information of applicant. The order stated that a post box address would suffice on the applications. Also the order stated that efforts should be made by the PIOs to protect the identity of the applicants at all cost.

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