The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to consider a plea filed by RTI activist Saket Gokhale seeking directions for removal of his personal information from the ministry’s website and said that it is the ministry’s ‘responsibility to ensure suitable inquiry’.
The HC asked MIB to place petition papers before its secretary and to file an inquiry report within three months and if no inquiry is ordered, the bench granted liberty to the RTI activist to move the court seeking relief. The court also directed the ministry to pay the activist Rs. 25000 towards expenses and said that his plea seeking Rs. 50 lakh compensation for mental trauma, agony and threat to life due to disclosure of personal details will be left to the civil court to decide.
A division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Milind N Jadhav was hearing the activist’s plea, which stated that he had filed a RTI application before the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs last October, seeking information regarding the ‘Bharat ki Laxmi campaign’. The application was transferred to MIB, which went on to upload the same on its website along with all his personal details, including contact number and address.
In the last hearing, the court had pulled up the ministry for the lapse. Advocate Rui Rodrigues, appearing for MIB, had said the RTI cell, on August 1, had removed all personal details of applicants from website. Gokhale, however, had maintained that his personal details could be found on the website even on September 4. Rodrigues on Thursday submitted that personal details pertaining to 4,474 RTI applications have been removed from the MIB website.
“The same ( removal of data) was done for other RTI applicants too. There was no malafide intention to cause damage to the petitioner or any other RTI Applicant,” Rodrigues said. The 2016 directions of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had not reached the MIB. However, as and when the directions came to the knowledge of MIB, the same was complied with immediate effect and personal details were removed from the website, MIB added.
Rodrigues had said the petitioner’s contentions do not “survive”, as its RTI cell, on August 1, had removed all personal details of RTI applicants from the website. Gokhale, however, had maintained that his personal details could be found on the website even on September 4.
Thereafter, Justice Jamdar referred to directions issued by DoPT through office memorandums (OM) in March and December 2016 which stated that personal information of RTI applicants should not be disclosed on websites. The bench observed that petitioner’s data remained on the website from November, last year to August, this year.’
The activist further submitted that while the MIB said that it did not receive OM from the DoPT, similar directives were issued in 2014 stopping the authorities from uploading information of RTI applicants on their website.
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