14 Dec 2022 6:02 AM GMT
Former Information Commissioners have expressed concerns about the proposal to amend the Right to Information Act through the Data Protection Bill, as it would result in the complete exemption of personal information from disclosure.Mr. Ratnakar Gaikwad, Former Chief Secretary and CIC Maharashtra, Mr. Rahul Singh, State Information Commissioner Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Yashovardhan Azad,...
Former Information Commissioners have expressed concerns about the proposal to amend the Right to Information Act through the Data Protection Bill, as it would result in the complete exemption of personal information from disclosure.
Mr. Ratnakar Gaikwad, Former Chief Secretary and CIC Maharashtra, Mr. Rahul Singh, State Information Commissioner Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Yashovardhan Azad, Former Central Information Commissioner and Retired IPS, Mr. Shailesh Gandhi, Former Central Information Commissioner and Mr. Aatmdeep, Former Information Commissioner, M. P, addressed the issue in a virtual press conference held on December 13.
They expressed the view that the amendment would adversely impact the citizens' Right to Information.
Mr. Shailesh Gandhi introduced the topic and pointed out that Section 8(1)(j) is being amended through the Bill which will have an over riding effect on the Right to Information. He also informed that the definition of person is also being amended. He expressed that the Right to Information works on the basis of the assumption that the whatever information is available to the government should also be made available to the public.
Mr. Ratnakar Gaikwad stated that, "Anyone who aims to dilute the provisions of the RTI Act is against democracy and transparency……RTI Activist especially Mr. Anna Hazare took a very firm stand that not even a word of the RTI Act should be amended…...The fear in the minds of the RTI Activists was well founded that in the garb of small amendments the RTI Act would be weakened." He expressed that it is shocking that Section 8(1)(j) of the Act is proposed to be amended. He raised the query as to who would benefit from the proposed amendment. He cited various examples where information was denied to the people despite the query being raised under the Right to Information. "Civil Society Organisations will have to seriously wake up and agitate against this proposed draconian anti-people, anti-democratic draft bill. Hope this press conference leads in that direction and wiser counsel would prevail", he said.
Mr. Rahul Singh also expressed his strong reservation against the Bill affecting the RTI Act. "I am not at all against protecting personal data, it must be protected but there is no reason to amend the RTI Act to protect personal data", he said. He added that although 17 years have passed since the enactment of the RTI Act, we are still struggling to get the basic provisions mentioned in the Act, such as suo moto declaration of the information by the Government Departments, implemented. "Instead of providing more support to bring transparency and accountability in the functioning of the public authority, I am very sorry to see this attempt to weaken the act." Mr. Rahul Singh said. Citing examples, he opined that Section 8(1)(j) is one of the most misused provisions of the Act. He further pointed out that the RTI Act is not only to ensure transparency but also to ensure accountability and making amendments in the Act would have an adverse effect.
Mr. Yashovardhan Azad expressed that the proposed amendment to the RTI Act would directly impact the fundamental right to Information. He also shared that 35% refusals to RTI enquiries are powered by Section 8(1)(j). He further added that a culture of secrecy has developed in the country which is a big blow to the country.
Mr. Aatmdeep stated that there are four provisions in the draft which will have an adverse impact on Right to Information. He added that the provisions have eliminated the difference between Personal Data and Personal Information. He stated that it is his belief that the aim of the Data Protection can be achieved even after the elimination of four provisions. Talking about Media, he said that Media and RTI go hand in hand. Data Protection Bill has become a tool to deplete the overarching effect of Right to Information Act as it would impact Section 22 and Section 8(1)(j) of the Act. He further pointed out that the definition of a 'Person" under the Data Protection Bill provision 12 has become an all inclusive definition and this would impact media as well as the right to information of an individual. It would have an impact on the investigative journalism.
They expressed that it is the duty of the public to keep a check if the Government is walking on a wrong path. They expressed that the bill has to be made available to the people so that they can given their comments. The bill was uploaded only to the web portal and was not circulated among the people through various mediums. The panel also expressed that they may approach the courts assailing the bill, if it becomes a law. The panel also communicated their desire to work towards strengthening the civil society and the voice of the people against the proposed amendments and Bills so that Right to Information may be protected.
Also Read : Digital Personal Data Protection Bill Proposes To Amend RTI Act To Completely Bar Disclosure Of Personal Information