Tuesday, January 31, 2023

On info of all Zeliang govt employees sought by Wsyf under Rti Act, 2005

The right to information is considered a revolutionary Act that aims to promote transparency in Government Institutions but the same cannot be used, or rather misused, to infringe upon the privacy of an individual. The right to privacy isa fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 14, 19&21 and RTI applications filed by Mughavi Awomi and Vikaho Sumi, President and Finance Secretary of Western Sumi Youth Front (WSYF) respectively, seeking information namely Appointment letters, Birth Certificates, ST Certificates and Indigenous Certificates of all Nagaland Government employees belonging to the Zeliang tribe is untenable. Providing such ‘personal information’ of individuals would do more harm than good to the Naga Society and once a precedenceis set, the various Departments will turn into sort-of RTI Circuses in the near future because such ‘personal information’ if provided to one party cannot be denied to another.
These RTI applications in question have reportedly surfaced in various Departments like P&AR, Art & Culture, Rural Development, Women Resources, Land Resources, Technical Education, Polytechnic Tsunazou, School Education, NBSE, Home etc. Against the backdrop of conflicts and turbulences prevailing between the Zeliangs and Western Sumis due to land issues,the objective of extracting personal details of Government employees belonging to the Zeliangtribe can only be considered as one being initiated with malicious intent. Of late,this drama has not only antagonised Government employees belonging to the Zeliang tribe but created further confusion and division even among the otherwise peaceful, law-abiding majority of the two communities.
Due to its unique nature, the RTI applications of the two WSYF leaders were widely circulated on Social Media, particularly WhatsApp groups. The attempt to gather ‘personal information’ of Government employees belonging to a particular tribe by leaders from another tribe is perhaps, a first of its kind in the history of Nagaland. What one fails to comprehend is the rationality and logic behind these RTI applications seeking ‘personal information’ of all the Government employees belonging only to a certain tribe.
The concern Departments who have been served the RTI applications, instead of tackling the issue at hand, have further aggravated the volatile situation at hand by directing Zeliang Government employees to submit their documents within stipulated time-frame. One communication from the HOD of a prominent Department dated December 5, 2022 directed all its District/concern Controlling Officers “to submit the list of the Zeliang tribe working under your Establishment along with the required documents latest by 9th December, 2022 without fail.”One wonders on what ground such direction for submission of ‘personal information’ of employees belonging to the Zeliang tribe was issued? Were such directions issued having been satisfied that that there was larger ‘public interest’ involved?
The Supreme Court of India had stated in the Ram Jethmalani vs. Union of India case that “it is important that human beings should be allowed domains of freedom that are free of public scrutiny unless they act in an unlawful manner.” Under such a paradigm, it is the bounden responsibility of concern Departments to put in place a protection framework to protect its employees from dangers to informational privacy originating from both state and non-state actors.
Clause (j)under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, 2005 states that “information which relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual” cannot be disclosed. Likewise, the Supreme Court of India in its Judgement on the Canara Bank vs. C.S. Shyam on August 31, 2017 had ruled that service details of an employee cannot be shared with an RTI applicant as such ‘personal information’ are exempted from disclosure under RTI Act, 2005 and such details cannot be provided unless there is involvement of any larger ‘public interest.’ Ironically, instead of disposing the matter at their competent level, some HODs/PIOs/APIOs have chosen to direct their Sub-ordinates for submission of personal documents belonging to all Government employees from the Zeliang tribe as sought by the two WSYF leaders. The Supreme Court of India in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs. Central Information Commissioner on October 3, 2012 observed that “information pertaining to the date of his/her (public officer) joining, details of promotion earned, date of his/her joining to the Branch where he/she is posted etc. is personal in nature; and, is exempted from being disclosed under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act.”
Also, in the case of R.K Jain vs. Union Of India on April 16, 2013, the Supreme Court had given its verdict to this effect. The High Court of Delhi in the case of Ms. Pinki Ganeriwal vs. Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) on June 7, 2010, on the basis of the ratio laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of UPSC vs. Gourhari Kamila, had observed that “the information such as date of birth, institution and year of passing graduation, field experience and caste is personal information of the selected candidates..” On the same note, the information pertaining to individual employees working with the Government of Nagaland and belonging to the Zeliang tribe as sought by WSYF youth leaders, is personal in nature and ought to be exempted from being disclosed.
It’s never too late to mend. HODs/PIOs/APIOs must revisit the issue at hand and rectify the matter with utmost urgency because Departments demanding personal information of its own employees to be supplied to a third party is in itself a clear violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
Likewise, the right to privacy is recognized as a basic Human Right under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Act, 1948, which state that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attack upon his honour and reputation.”
The ongoing animosity between the Western Sumis and the Zeliangs is an open book and under such a situation, collection of ‘personal information’ of Government employees belonging to either the Zeliangs or the Western Sumis will do no good for peace and harmony to prevail.Given the prevailing situation, providing ‘personal information’ of individuals belonging to the two communities will also be a direct contravention to Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act, 2005 which,notwithstanding anything contained in the RTI Act, states that there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, “information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.”
With the ongoing questionable exercise undertaken by some Departments complying to the RTI applications, it may not be a surprise if counter RTI applications are filed tomorrow seeking the same information of Government employees belonging to other Naga tribes, or the Sumi tribe for that matter. What will the Departments do then? Are the Departments equipped and ready to invest their time, resources and manpower in collecting ‘personal information’ of Government employees when, on the other hand, they have the option of concentrating on better things for common welfare of the Naga Society? By demanding the personal details of its own employees to be supplied to a third party, some Departments seem to have bitten off more than they can chew.
Departments which have received such RTIs must handle the matter with resolute urgency so that such ill-thought-out action of seeking personal information under Section 6 of the RTI Act 2005 is repudiated at all level immediately because, firstly, the information sought is protected from being disclosed under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act and secondly, it has no nexus with any public interest or activity. The right to information is an essential part of the principle of natural justice but it must be justifiable by the requirement of public interest.
More importantly, privacy as a right holds immense importance as a citizen’s fundamental right and as such, the two WSYF youth leaders cannot claim personal information of individuals as a matter of right. The queries sought by them relates to ‘personal information’, the disclosures of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest. Conceding to such calls would cause unwarranted invasion to individual privacy and therefore, concern Departments which have received the RTI applications in question should reject the same under relevant provision of the RTI Act already stated.
~Azeu Namcyn Hau
(The writer is former General Secretary of the Zeliangrong Baudi, Nagaland & can be reached at azeunamcynhau@yahoo.com)

Must Read