The Kerala High Court, on Friday, issued notice on a Petition filed by twenty-one Petroleum Outlet Dealers challenging the demand of "personal financial details" by public sector oil companies- Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Indian Oil Corporation Limited and Hindustan Petroleum Limited.
Justice Shaji P. Chaly also prohibited the Respondent Companies from initiating any coercive action against the Petitioners due to non-supply of such information, for a period of two months.
The Petitioners maintain Retail Petroleum Outlets in furtherance of Dealership/License Agreements with the respondent Oil Companies. The stock taking, supply and payment of the transactions between the Retail Outlet dealers and the petroleum companies takes place through a Mobile App developed by the Oil Companies.
However, these Companies are now demanding from the Petitioners information such as their Sales Tax Returns, IT Returns and Bank Statements. They have, in fact, warned the Petitioners of discontinuation of supply of petroleum products from 9 April, if the information is not supplied to them.
Challenging this demand, the Petitioners through Advocate Santhosh Mathew contend that the same is violative of their right to privacy as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, submitting,
"A 9 Judge Bench of the Honorable Supreme Court in the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India and others reported in 2017 (1) SCC 1, has held that right to privacy is a fundamental right of the citizen. The demands now made by the respondents is infringing on the right to privacy of the petitioners. It is also submitted that the Honorable Supreme Court in Puttaswamy held that ‘informational control’ is a distinct component of privacy, and that this empowers the individual to use privacy as a shield to retain personal control over personal information.
The respondents have not provided any reason for seeking the personal information of the petitioners, including their bank statements and tax information."
They further assert that the Respondents' actions violate their right to carry on any trade, occupation, and business as guaranteed to them under Article 19(1)(g). The demands have also been challenged as being arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
Besides, the Petitioners point out the possibility of such information being misused, due to lack of adequate security mechanism being put in place. They submit, "The documents as sought for by Exhibit P2 and similar demands are highly personal and sensitive in nature. There is every likelihood of the information being misused if it falls into wrong hands. The respondents do not have any foolproof mechanism to keep the personal data safe and confidential.
The Oil Companies are mere commercial entities discharging public functions on behalf of the Government and as such they have no right or authority to seek information or peep into the financial income or tax details of the petitioners which are private and confidential in nature."
They, therefore, seek quashing of such demand circulars by the Respondent Companies.