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Personal Info Of More Than 4000 RTI Applicants Displayed On Official Website: Bombay High Court Pulls Up I&B Ministry

Nitish Kashyap
30 Oct 2020 7:00 AM GMT
Personal Info Of More Than 4000 RTI Applicants Displayed On Official Website: Bombay High Court Pulls Up I&B Ministry
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The Bombay High Court on Thursday, while hearing RTI Activist Saket Gokhale's writ petition against the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting's decision to upload his personal details on their website, pulled up the Ministry after being informed that personal details of more than 4000 of such RTI applicants were disclosed on the official website until recently.In the previous...

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The Bombay High Court on Thursday, while hearing RTI Activist Saket Gokhale's writ petition against the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting's decision to upload his personal details on their website, pulled up the Ministry after being informed that personal details of more than 4000 of such RTI applicants were disclosed on the official website until recently.

In the previous hearing, the division bench of Justice Nitin Jamdar and Justice Milind Jadhav had directed the Ministry to clarify whether the petitioner was being singled out or whether personal details of other such applicants were also displayed as it went against office memorandum issued by the Department of Personnel and Training dated March 23, 2016 and October 7, 2016 asking all government departments not to display personal details of applicants on the website as they do not serve a public purpose.

Appearing on behalf of the Ministry, Advocate Rui Rodrigues submitted that petitioner's details were disclosed on the website in compliance with an office memorandum of 2014 wherein proactive disclosure of details of RTI applications, appeals etc was mandated. He also submitted that after receiving Gokhale's letter protesting against the move to upload personal details alleging harassment as a result, the Ministry learned of the 2016 memorandum.

But, until then, it was too late and details of 4474 applicants had already been uploaded on the official website. The same was removed on August 1, 2020, Rodrigues submitted.

"Is anyone looking into this? It is not just the petitioner's case!" Justice Jamdar exclaimed.

However, Gokhale, who is appearing in person, contended that his personal details were on the website even on September 4 and refuted the Ministry's claim. Referring to the Ministry's claim that details of over 4000 applicants had been disclosed online, Gokhale submitted that this was a mass violation of fundamental rights of these applicants.

According to Gokhale, he filed a Right to Information application with the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs, Govt of India, on October 27, 2019 seeking details on the Govt of India's "Bharat Ki Laxmi" campaign. The Sports Ministry transferred the said application to the I&B Ministry. On November 26, 2019, the petitioner's RTI application was uploaded to the said Ministry's website with his contact details and address.

The website link of the Respondent containing his telephone and address details started appearing on internet search engines like Google thus making this personal and private information of the Petitioner freely available on the internet, the petition states.

Then, on July 22, 2020, Gokhale filed a letter Writ Petition before the Allahabad High Court praying that a stay be granted on the inauguration function of the Ram Janmabhoomi where over 200 people were expected to attend keeping in mind the Covid-19 pandemic. The letter petition was converted by the Allahabad High Court into a PIL and dismissed on July 23.

According to the petitioner, he started getting several phone calls and messages 'threatening, harassing, abusing, and intimidating him'. Gokhale has also sought Rs.50 lakh as compensation from the Ministry "for the mental trauma, agony, and the threat to life and liberty suffered by the Petitioner due to the violation of his fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution."

Gokhale claims his personal details were removed from the website in September once he wrote to the Ministry.

Court will now hear the matter on November 5.

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