M A I N   N E W S

PM bats for limiting RTI to protect individual privacy
Hints at Right to Privacy to secure people’s interests post-RTI
Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, October 12
Amid the ongoing public spat between the Congress and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over UPA chief Sonia Gandhi’s medical bills worth Rs 1,880 crore, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said one person’s right to know can’t be allowed to undermine another’s right to privacy. He indicated that the government would soon bring an independent Right to Privacy legislation to secure people’s interests in the light of the RTI Act.

“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,” the PM said at the seventh Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission. The day marks the coming into force of the RTI Act on October 12, 2005.

Since then, the PM said, concerns had arisen over the possible infringement of personal privacy while providing information under the law. Citing constitutional obligations under Article 14, he said, “There is a fine balance required to be maintained between the right to information and the right to privacy, which stems from the Fundamental Right to Life and Liberty. The issue of a separate legislation on privacy is under consideration of an expert group under Justice AP Shah.”

Minister of State in the PMO, V Narayanasamy, however, admitted that the government “was contemplating the right to privacy bill”. The conference will also deliberate on the issue and recommend a definition of “privacy”.

For his part, Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra has already clarified in Sonia Gandhi’s case that any expenditure made by an individual on medical treatment is private information that can’t be covered under the RTI application. However, if such expenditure involves public funds, it could be covered.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, which enforced RTI in 2009, private information covers medical records, DNA information and private investments. “But if public funds are involved in private dealings, privacy argument doesn’t apply,” the visiting former CIC of Bangladesh, Mohammad Jameer, told TNS. Renowned sociologist Andre Beteille, who gave the keynote address today, said, "Privacy is different from secrecy."

The PM for his part did acknowledge the criticality of the RTI for transparency in governance, but also voiced apprehensions over continued vexatious use of the law to seek information to target people. He went on to exhort delegates against blanket extension of the law to private entities in PPP tie-ups, saying such an extension could discourage investment even as blanket exclusion could harm accountability. “Please find a way forward here,” he told Information Commissioners.

The PM also made an oblique reference to RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal and his NGO India against Corruption’s continuing tirade against the government. “The RTI legislation should not be only about criticising, ridiculing, and running down public authorities. It should be more about promoting transparency and accountability, spreading information and awareness and empowering our citizen. There’s a need for all of us to work towards building an environment where citizens see the government as a partner and not as an adversary,” he said.

The trigger

  • Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had demanded that Sonia Gandhi’s travel bills be made public while citing media reports of an RTI response from the government in this regard
  • The Chief Information Commissioner had clarified that expenditure by an individual on treatment was private information that can’t be covered under the RTI application


  • 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. Such queries are a drain on public resources
  • Last year, 10 lakh persons sought information from Central Government authorities. It is a pointer to the success of the RTI that only 4.5% applications reach Information Commissions for adjudication





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