The draft Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill circulated by the Union Government has Right to Information (RTI) activists worried about a lot of information moving out of the purview of the RTI Act.
The activists feel the amendments the Bill proposes in the RTI Act will constrict it and bring further arbitrariness in the release of information sought.
The DPDP Bill has proposed that section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act be amended. The section prevents the disclosure of any personal information unless the public information officer (PIO) is satisfied that such disclosure is justified in the larger public interest. Section 30(2) of the draft Bill proposes that this section be omitted.
“I agree there should be privacy, but this is a wrong proposal,” said Pralhad Kachare, former head of the RTI training cell at the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration. “In the RTI Act, Section 8(1)(j) is a qualifying clause that if the public interest is justified, information should be given. It is a qualified exemption. Absolute exemption is not proper. Then in the garb of privacy, corruption will be protected.”
The other issue, say activists, relates to the definition of a person that covers an individual, Hindu undivided family, a company, a firm, an association of persons or body of individuals, incorporated or not, the State, and every artificial juristic person not falling within any of the earlier sub-clauses.
“If this is passed, no PIO will give information of his own free will,” said former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi. “Anyway, right now also there are only a few officers and commissioners giving information. After this, if I seek a copy of a contract between, say, a State Government and a company, it will be denied. Right now there is an enforceable right when public interest is involved. That will go away altogether.”
Activists say one needs to differentiate between a person and a citizen and that most information with governments is personal as it is been procured through citizen interfaces.
They say that once the information is with a public authority, it is in the public domain. “From birth to death to seeking reservation, all details are through public interfaces,” said Mr Kachare. “Tomorrow if a member of a society or a citizen wants to know if a person got reservation by submitting bogus documents, he has the right to know. Under the garb of privacy, the information cannot be refused.”