The Bombay High Court while hearing a writ petition filed by activist Saket Gokhale directed the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to clarify whether personal details of other RTI applicants are displayed on the Ministry's website or the petitioner was singled out, as his details were displayed on the website which led to harassment, the petitioner claims.
Division bench of Justice Nitin Jamdar and Justice Milind Jadhav directed the I&B Ministry to file an additional affidavit clarifying whether the petitioner was singled out. The ministry has filed an affidavit dated October 7 denying any mala fide intention behind displaying the petitioner's details.
The affidavit states-
"There is no malafide intention whatsoever of the answering Respondent to disclose the personal information of the petitioner or any other RTI Applicant by uploading the same on the website of the answering Respondent and to cause damage to the petitioner or any other RTI applicant. The allegation of malafide is categorically denied."
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."
The petitioner's personal details were removed from the website in September once he wrote to the Ministry.
Although the petitioner alleged that the order passed 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 were not adhered to by the ministry on purpose, the Ministry's counsel Advocate Rui Rodrigues told the court on Thursday that the I&B ministry did not receive such communications at the time when petitioner's details were made public.
Court directed the respondent Ministry to clarify if details of all RTI applicants were displayed on the official website after 2016 directions, and the timeline regarding when the notices were received by the ministry and when the petitioner's details were removed from the website.
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