Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday called for fine balance between right to information and right to privacy, an issue that cropped up after Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi sought details of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s foreign travel bills, which include those for health reasons.
Addressing the annual convention of information commissioners here, Manmohan Singh highlighted the concerns over possible infringement of personal privacy with the government providing information under the RTI (Right To Information) Act, 2005.
Public authorities should not view the law as “an irritant” but as one that does collective good, he said, indicating that there were concerns about “frivolous and vexatious use” of the act in demanding information, the disclosure of which cannot possibly serve any public purpose.
“Concerns have also been raised regarding possible infringement of personal privacy while providing information under the RTI Act.”
“There is a fine balance required to be maintained between the RTI and the right to privacy, which stems out of the fundamental rights to life and liberty,” Manmohan Singh said at the event.
The prime minister said 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,” he said, but did not mention Modi’s demand that Sonia Gandhi’s travel bills be made public while citing media reports of an RTI response from the government in this regard.
Referring to a Supreme Court order on appointment of retired apex court judges and high court chief justices as heada of Central Information Commission (CIC) and state information commissions (SICs), the prime minister said he was aware there had been “some confusion” about its implications on composition of the CIC and SICs.
“As you might be aware, the government has decided to go in review before the Supreme Court in this matter,” he said, a day after the central government moved a petition seeking review of the Sep 13 apex court order.
Manmohan Singh also noted that issues relating to how much information relating to entities set up under public-private partnerships (PPP) be disclosed under RTI too needed to be addressed.
He said blanket extension of the RTI Act to such PPP bodies may discourage private enterprises to enter into partnerships with the public sector. A blanket exclusion, on the other hand, may harm the cause of accountability of public officials, he added.
“This important legislation should not be only about criticising, ridiculing, and running down public authorities. RTI should be more about promoting transparency and accountability, spreading information and awareness and empowering the citizen.”
Citizens, Manmohan Singh said, feel empowered because of the RTI as 95.5 percent applications relating to central government authorities are cleared at the first stage.
“The potential for good, constructive use of the RTI is perhaps far greater than what its current status would indicate,” he said, adding that there was need to “change perceptions” on RTI among public authorities.