RTI can’t prevail over right to privacy,says PM

CIC MEET: Cautions against ‘vexatious’ use,‘blanket extension’ to PPP projects

Written by Shyamlal Yadav | New Delhi | Published: October 12, 2012 10:05 pm

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday cautioned against the “frivolous” and “vexatious” use of the RTI Act,saying that the citizens’ right to know should be circumscribed if it encroaches on an individual’s privacy.

He warned against blanket extension of RTI to bodies like public-private partnerships,as this “may discourage private enterprises to enter into partnerships with the public sector entity”.

Inaugurating the seventh National RTI Conference organised by the Central Information Commission,the PM said: “There is a fine balance required… between the right to information and the right to privacy,which stems out of the fundamental right to life and liberty. The citizens’ right to know should definitely be circumscribed if disclosure of information encroaches upon someone’s personal privacy. But where to draw the line is a complicated question.”

A law on privacy is under consideration of an expert group under Justice (retd) A P Shah,he pointed out.

Singh had expressed similar concerns,seeking a “critical review” of the RTI Act,at last year’s convention.

On Friday,he said: “There are concerns about frivolous and vexatious use of the Act in demanding information the disclosure of which cannot possibly serve any public purpose. Sometimes information covering a long time span or a large number of cases is sought in an omnibus manner with the objective of discovering an inconsistency or mistake which can be criticised. Such queries besides serving little productive social purpose are also a drain on the resources of the public authorities,diverting precious man hours that could be put to better use.”

Singh warned against “blanket extension” of the Act to PPPs,but added that “blanket exclusion may harm accountability of public officials”.

Incidentally,an appeal seeking information on the PPP Puducherry port modernisation project is pending before the CIC since one year. A task force report on it,that is yet to be published,reportedly recommends bringing PPP projects under RTI.

Seeking a “more constructive and productive use of RTI”,the PM said: “This… should not only be about criticising,ridiculing and running down public authorities… the ultimate goal of the legislation is to induce more efficiency in the work of the government and help it serve the people better.”

Singh said that in the last year,close to 10 lakh people had sought information using RTI. The Act makes citizens feel empowered because it is simple and uncomplicated,easy to understand and use,he said.

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