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During the hearing of a plea filed by activist Saket Gokhale, the Bombay High Court today asked the Central government whether the details of all Right to Information (RTI) applicants were uploaded on the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) website (Saket Gokhale v. Union of India).
The Bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and MN Jadhav sought this clarification while hearing a plea filed by Gokhale seeking removal of his contact details which were uploaded on the official website of the MIB.
The Court today asked the Union to clarify in an affidavit whether the MIB's action was limited to Gokhale's details, or if there was a large scale mistake for every RTI applicant.
Gokhale filed the present plea after he discovered that his contact details, which he had mentioned in an RTI application, had been displayed on MIB's website, where his application, along with the reply to the same was published.
His plea was to seek removal of his personal contact details from the website as publication of the same in violation of his fundamental right to privacy. He also compensation to the tune of Rs. 50 lakhs for the distress, mental agony and personal risk which he faced due to the constant threat to his life.
Gokhale informed in his plea that he was a social activist standing up for public issues and had recently raised his voice against actions of the existing government. After his details were discovered on the public forum, he started getting threatening phone-calls and a house visit.
Gokhale, appearing in person, submitted to the Court that the action of MIB was in violation of orders of the Supreme Court and High Courts and subsequent procedures laid down by the Government.
He specifically relied upon the judgement of Avinash Goenka v. Ashish Kumar Roy and Anr. where the Court had held it is the solemn responsibility of the RTI authority to hide the information of RTI applicants from the people at large.
He also pointed out the subsequent Office Memorandum (OM) of 2014 by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, (MPPGP) Government of India which directed all departments of all Ministries to take notice of the judgment.
In its reply affidavit, the MIB pointed out that the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), who is responsible for uploading information on the website, was following instructions as per another OM of 2014 of the MPPGP. This OM directed the display of all information pertaining to RTI applications on the MIB website.
Advocate Rui Rodrigues, appearing for MIB, pointed out that the CPIO was not aware of the subsequent OMs of 2016 which directed non-disclosure of personal details on the website.
Rodrigues added that the CPIO immediately took down the personal details of Gokhale and all other RTI applicants right after receiving the OMs.
At this point, the Court began deliberating on whether the CPIO had published details of all the RTI applicants on the MIB website.
The Court then asked Rodrigues to submit an additional affidavit clarifying when the CPIO was informed about the Office Memorandums, and to spell out in that affidavit whether personal details of every RTI applicant were uploaded on the website.
Gokhale asked the Court to note that his details had been uploaded since November 2019, and were not taken down until first week of September 2020 (based on what he had last seen).
The Court clarified that Gokhale's arguments would be kept open, and that he can make his submissions in the next hearing after the additional affidavit is submitted.
MIB has been granted two weeks time to file the affidavit, and the matter will be listed for hearing thereafter.