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saavee

WP at Calcutta HC rules to make PO Box number enough for RTI applicants address

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saavee

[h=5]Kolkata High Court -

WP.33290/2013 (PIL.)

AVISHEK GOENKA VS

CENTRAL HOME MINISTRY &

CENTRAL MINISTRY OF PERSONNEL ...

THE FOLLOWING JUDGEMENT HAS BEEN PASSED, ON

(20/11/13) BY THE CHIEF JUSTICE HEADED BENCH - "It will not be mandatory for RTI. applicants, to disclose their - NAME & COMPLETE POSTAL ADDRESS & only - POSTAL BOX reference can be extended" !! PETITION DETAILS ARE AVAILABLE IN THE FOLLOWING LINK -SAVE AAM ADMI[/h]

 

 

 

 

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karira

Not finding any reference of that petition number on the Calcutta HC website.

Please upload HC judgment OR give link.

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Sajib Nandi

Reported by Deepak Prahladka in Hindustantimes.com on November 20, 2013

Calcutta HC allows anonymous RTI applications using post box - Hindustan Times

 

In a move to protect whistle-blowers in the country, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday ruled that a petition under the Right to Information (RTI) Act can be made by using only a post box number without giving the name and address.

 

 

The ruling was aimed at protecting applicants or RTI activists from attack or harassment by persons who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed.

 

Acting chief justice Ashim Kumar Banerjee and justice Debangsu Basak passed the order on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Avishek Goenka, challenging the rejection of his RTI application made to a central government department by using his post box number to protect his identity.

 

Goenka had applied under the RTI Act by using his post box number, but his application was rejected on the ground that he had not disclosed his identity by mentioning his address.

 

According to estimates, during the last six years, about 150 RTI activists had become victims for seeking information by giving their names and addresses:

 

Attacks against RTI activists during the last six years

 

[TABLE=width: 50%]

[TR]

[TD]Killed[/TD]

[TD]24[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Assaulted[/TD]

[TD]52[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Harassed[/TD]

[TD]74[/TD]

[/TR]

[/TABLE]

 

Moving the petition, Goenka argued that a person has the right to apply for obtaining information under the RTI Act by using post box to protect his life.

 

“RTI activists are vulnerable human rights defenders in India. They often act alone, moved by anger at corruption and other illegal activities of public authorities and political leaders who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed,” Goenka said.

 

“RTI activists receive media attention only when killed or seriously injured. When complaints are made by RTI activists, law enforcement personnel (who often work with corrupt officials) do not take appropriate action. Therefore, such activists should not have been identified and their lives could have been protected if they were allowed to apply under the RTI Act by using post box number,” Goenka said.

 

Protection of RTI activists was also raised in Parliament several times during 2010. The Bombay High Court, when hearing the case of the murder of RTI activist Satish Shetty in Maharashtra on 7 May 2010, ordered the state to provide police protection to any person complaining of threats or the use of force after filing RTI application.

 

The order of the Calcutta High Court means that it would be applicable only in West Bengal and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Other states may follow the order but it is not a binding upon them.

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balaraghavan

Thank you. please attach the court decision.

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G.R.Vidyaranya

Post Boxes could be hired by NGOs who help RTI Activists and thereby further protect the identity of Applicants since the Post Office itself is bound to reveal the name and address of a PO Box hirer if an RTI is filed for this info. Definitely a welcome move by Calcutta HC. Jai Ho!

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G.R.Vidyaranya

Though it is a welcome move by Kolkata HC to allow RTI applications with just PO Box address to protect the identity of the applicant, how will the reply from PIO of a Public Authority be delivered through Registered Post as mandated by CIC/SIC? Any ideas??

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karira
Though it is a welcome move by Kolkata HC to allow RTI applications with just PO Box address to protect the identity of the applicant, how will the reply from PIO of a Public Authority be delivered through Registered Post as mandated by CIC/SIC? Any ideas??

 

A Registered Letter or Speed Post (or similar) will be delivered to a Post Box, provided it has a valid name on it. If there is no name on the envelope, a Post office will not accept the registered post or speed post.

 

In any case, there is no way to hide one's name....since the RTI application has to be signed.

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Prasad GLN

Above all, in a place like India, nothing can be kept a secret and everything is available for a cost, if one wants any information.

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jps50

If a registered/speed post article is received at post box address, then post man will leave an intimation in the post box and the post box owner will have to show this intimation and collect the article from counter.

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m_deka

Respected member; I feel that foreigner will be able to get information by using P. B. number.

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bpagrawal

Anonymous RTI applications using post box number valid, says Calcutta High Court

 

Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Avishek Goenka challenging the rejection of his RTI application made to a central government department by using his post box number to protect his identity, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court comprising Acting Chief Justice Ashim Kumar Banerjee and Justice Debangsu Basak held that a person making a petition under the Right to Information (RTI) Act need not give his name and address and can make the petition by using only a post box number.

The order of the Calcutta High Court would be applicable only in West Bengal and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Other states may follow the order, but it is not a binding upon them. This decision, which would serve as a major protection for whistle-blowers in the country, was delivered by the division bench to protect applicants or RTI activists from attack and harassment by persons who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed.

Law Web: Anonymous RTI applications using post box number valid, says Calcutta High Court

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karira
Respected member; I feel that foreigner will be able to get information by using P. B. number.

 

Can you please explain as to how under the present system (of giving address) a non Indian citizen can be prevented from getting information. Anyone can give any name but a valid address.

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karira

What is the issue?:

According to this order which is yet to be uploaded on the Calcutta High Court's website, the petitioner is said to have approached the Calcutta High Court demanding that giving personal contact details such as postal address to a public authority must not be made compulsory for an RTI applicant. The petitioner prayed that merely mentioning a Post Box number for the purpose of contacting the applicant should be enough for the purpose of theRight to Information Act (RTI Act). This prayer was made to prevent harassment of RTI users by unscrupulous elements within or outside the public authority which receives the RTI application.

What did the Court Rule?:

A 2-judge bench of the Court, including the acting Chief Justice, ruled that disclosing a Post Box number should be adequate for the purpose of Section 6(2) of the RTI Act which requires an RTI applicant to provide his/her contacts details to the Public Information Officer while seeking information. The Court held that an applicant disclosing a Post Box number should not be compelled to disclose any further contact details. However if a public authority has any difficulty contacting the applicant through the Post Box No., the applicant may be asked to provide other contact details. The Court directed that the contact details of the applicant must not be disclosed on the public authority's website in order to avoid possible harassment.

Analysis of the implications of this judgement:

It is true that numerous RTI users have been attacked physically or harassed mentally for seeking information that vested interests would prefer to keep under wraps. At least 25 murders over the last eight years can be connected to the use of the RTI Act by the victim. The most recent case of alleged murder of an RTI user is from Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Although the murder is said to have occurred in March 2013, investigations are said to have revealed the RTI link only recently.

 

The requestor's right to privacy

The practice of keeping the identity of RTI users confidential is nothing new. Public authorities in the United Kingdom which disclose information requests received from persons and their replies on their website, take care to erase the name and contact details of the applicant from the documents. A visit to the FOI logs portion of the BBC's website will show how common this practice is. In Mexico, RTI applications may be made by email and responses also may be sent by email through the InfoMex digital system. It must be remembered that both countries have strong data protection laws where ordinarily personal information about any person may not be disclosed without his/her informed consent. The only exceptions to this rule are if the disclosure if required for the purpose of law enforcement or for the purpose of national security-related matters or if a court orders disclosure. The practice of affording such protection is based on the principle of preserving and protecting the autonomy of the individual over his/her personal data held by public and private bodies so that it may not be misused for any purpose including commercial ones.

In Germany this right was first recognised in 1983 as the "right to informational self-determination" in a landmark case where the Constitutional Court ruled that people cannot be 'databased'. The judgement was an outcome of a challenge to the then Census law that sought to create databases by collecting demographic information about people living in Germany. Almost all data protection laws in Europe flow from the principle enunciated in this seminal judgement (summary of the judgement is discussed in the 2nd attachment). It is another matter that the Government of India is trying to database people, and not just citizens, through Aadhaar and the National Population Register despite the myriad objections to this exercise. Although the right to privacy is a fundamental right, India does not have a data protection law yet. A comprehensive report on the subject authored by a committee headed by Justice A P Shah is lying idle without much public debate.

Impracticalities of the solution directed:

Coming back to the analysis of the judgement itself, with the deepest respect to the wisdom of the Court it must be said that the directions will give rise to major practical difficulties. First, replies sent by Registered Post or Speed Post will not be delivered to the Post Box as a rule. Post Boxes are meant for receiving letters sent by ordinary post only. I checked this up with two post offices in Delhi a short while ago. So the Government of India and other similarly placed public authorities will have to change their practice of sending all replies to an RTI request by Speed Post/Regd. Post which is essentially recorded mail.

 

Second, Speed Post/Regd. Post deliveries can be tracked online, so the public authority cannot escape by saying, "We mailed it to the applicant but we do not know why the letter did not reach him/her". There is no way of recording whether replies sent by ordinary post are actually delivered to the Post Box. It is not uncommon for public authorities to show the entry of a reply being sent in their outward dak register despite the letter never reaching the addressee for a variety of reasons. So the Post Box solution will only create more problems for the RTI applciant under the garb of protecting his/her identity.

 

Third, it is very common for RTI applicants to seek large amounts of information in one request. The size of the average Post Box is so small that large envelopes will simply not fit into the slot in each box meant for dropping in letters. At the most an envelope containing about 10 sheets of paper may fit into the box through the slot with some difficulty. Larger sized packets will have to be put in only by opening the box. This means the Box will be opened up by he Postman without the permission of the addressee. Is this is a viable proposition? I am not too sure if the Dept. of Posts will feel encouraged to make other arrangements to store large sized packets outside the Post Box for the RTI applicants to come and collect them in person unless a system is created where the customer pays for such services. Creating such a facility in all post offices with Post Box facility will be resource heavy. As CHRI has rented a Post Box for official use in Delhi, I was able to make an assessment of the situation by visiting the spot where the Post Boxes are maintained.

 

Fourth, the petitioner and the Court seem to have assumed that all post offices will have post box facility so that any person living in any part of the city/town or village will be able to visit the post office to collect his/her letters. There may be thousands of small post offices particularly in villages that do not have such a facility. So the applicant will have to spend extra money to visit the nearest post office that has post box facilities. In Rural India 'near' actually means 'far' for many villages and hamlets. RTI users have been attacked or murdered in villages also and not merely in cities and towns. An easy seeming solution at the surface level shows more problems when examined in depth.

Post Box will not end the culture of impunity

With the greatest respect to the wisdom of the Court, I believe the judgement, though useful, is only a stop gap measure and of limited use. RTI is a deemed fundamental right. If its parent right, namely, the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and other equally or more important fundamental rights such as the right to life and liberty, the right to education, the right to health, the right to shelter, the right to food, the right to adequate amounts of potable water, the right to other basic amenities, the right to profess one's religion can all be enjoyed in the open without having to mask the identity of the rights-bearer, why should the use of RTI be subject to confidentiality? If the State is unable to ensure the safety of a citizen who legitimately exercises his/her fundamental right because it irks someone else, then the foremost responsibility for such a state of affairs lies with the State itself. RTI would then sadly join the list of some other human rights, such as, the right to marry by one's own choice, the right not to be sexually assaulted in whatever manner by whosoever, the right of girl children not to be terminated at the foetal stage just because they do not have the Y chromosome in their genome, which are violated every day with the State not being effective in curbing such violations.

Some other practical solutions

The first and foremost solution is for the corruptors and the corrupted not to indulge in such activities. If this happens there will be no fear in disclosing under the RTI Act, simple information, such as, muster rolls (wage registers), names of housing assistance beneficiaries under the Indira Awaas Yojana or records of the money spent on non-existent roads and buildings which many of the RTI users who were attacked or murdered sought under the RTI Act. "Okay, that sounds like a pipe dream to me too :-D"

 

Better, still, the State should ensure an atmosphere of real protection for the people by enacting and effectively implementing the whistleblower protection law (which covers ordinary citizens also) and the basket of new legislation and amendments to existing laws aimed at combatting corruption and providing better service delivery that are pending in Parliament. A respectable taxpaying and voting citizen of this country should not be compelled to hide his/her identity to avoid being targetted just because he/she exercised his/her fundamental right. All cases of attacks on RTI users must be investigated forthwith and the guilty brought to book. Certainty of punishment will act as a deterrent for all potential attackers and murderers. Information Commissions and Human Rights Commissions must take on the role of monitoring the progress in every such case. A country cannot reasonably aspire to be a super power without ensuring freedom from fear for its people vis-a-vis its own people.

 

This judgement needs to be debated further before we start writing letters to the departments overseeing compliance with the RTI Act to incorporate the Calcutta High Court's directions in implementation guidelines.

 

Please circulate this email widely.Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

Venkatesh Nayak

Access to Information Programme

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

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Sajib Nandi

Reported by Partha Sarathi Biswas in Indianexpress.com on Jan 09 2014

DoPT asks PIOs not to divulge personal info of RTI applicants - Indian Express

 

In a move welcomed by many, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has issued guidelines restraining Public Information Officers (PIOs) from disclosing or sharing details of the information sought under Right to Information (RTI) Act.

On October 25, Newsline had highlighted the trend in Maharashtra wherein PIOs sent original RTI applications seeking details of licences and MoUs signed by the state government and the companies to the companies asking them to send the information directly to the applicant.

When the Newsline had applied for a copy of the MoU signed by a private telecommunication giant and the state government, the PIO of the department of industries, labour and energy had forwarded the same directly to the company in question.

The covering note attached to the application directed the company to directly send the answer to the applicant. Similar incidents were reported by other RTI users who had asked for similar details from Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and other departments.

This trend was criticised by RTI activist Commodore (Rtd) Lokesh Batra. He had written to the DoPT asking for guidelines for PIOs to stop disclosing such information. Batra, in his letter to secretary, DoPT, said that this in contravention with Section 2 (f) and 6(3) of the RTI Act.

He pointed out that these sections of the Act make it mandatory for the PIO to collect information and, if need be, transfer the applications to public authorities. "Private companies do not constitute public authorities, and thus, applications can't be transferred to them. It is for the public authority to collect the information without disclosing the identity of the information seeker," the letter said.

Batra had followed up the issue with the department and had pointed out how on November 20 the Kolkata High Court forbade the disclosure of personal information of applicant. The order stated that a post box address would suffice on the applications. Also the order stated that efforts should be made by the PIOs to protect the identity of the applicants at all cost.

The DoPT on Wednesday uploaded on its website the High Court's judgment with the note that the same should be brought to the notice of all. Batra welcoming the move said the PIOs should take care not to divulge the personal information of the applicants.

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RAVEENA_O

There should be proper training of PIOs, APIOs as well as other officers on RTI Act and its implementation. Such things happens only due to lack of knowledge about Act and its implementaion.

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karira

Based on this judgment of the Calcutta High Court, DoPT has now issued a circular to all CPIOs.

 

The circular is attached to this post.

DoPT O.M. dated 08 Jan 2013.pdf

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akhilesh yadav

Reported by Paul John in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on Jan 25, 2014

RTI applicant need not give full address - The Times of India

 

RTI applicant need not give full address

 

AHMEDABAD: If you are an RTI applicant and do not want to reveal your complete address to government officer accepting your application, you needn't disclose your full address. The department of personnel and training (DoPT) has issued instructions to all state information commissions in this regard. It may be noted that several complaints of applicants being harassed either by the third parties about whom information had been sought or by government officers themselves has come to light.

The January 8 office memorandum of the DoPT was received by the Gujarat state information commission recently. The office order clearly quotes a Kolkata high court judgement on a writ petition in which an RTI applicant Avishek Goenka had stated that he feared he would be harmed. Goenka had given only his post box address in the application but the West Bengal authorities had objected to this and demanded his complete contact details.

In the light of Kolkata high court's decision, the DoPT issued a notification to all state information commissions, including that of Gujarat. In the notification, DoPT director Sandeep Jain has interpreted section 6(2) of the RTI Act, and said: "We have considered the relevant provisions of the statute. Section 6(2) of the RTI Act clearly provides that an applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him."

Jain says that even if the applicant can be reached at a post box number, this should be accepted as valid contact information. However, if contacting the applicant via a post box number is difficult, then the authority may demand some more details. In such cases, the contact details of the applicant shall not be revealed in the orders posted on the information commission's website, says the DoPT notification.

"This is a relevant order and will help all applicants who feel that they may be harassed for seeking information," said member of Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pehel, Pankti Jog.

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jainaditya
What is the issue?:

Impracticalities of the solution directed:

Coming back to the analysis of the judgement itself, with the deepest respect to the wisdom of the Court it must be said that the directions will give rise to major practical difficulties. First, replies sent by Registered Post or Speed Post will not be delivered to the Post Box as a rule. Post Boxes are meant for receiving letters sent by ordinary post only. I checked this up with two post offices in Delhi a short while ago. So the Government of India and other similarly placed public authorities will have to change their practice of sending all replies to an RTI request by Speed Post/Regd. Post which is essentially recorded mail.

 

Second, Speed Post/Regd. Post deliveries can be tracked online, so the public authority cannot escape by saying, "We mailed it to the applicant but we do not know why the letter did not reach him/her". There is no way of recording whether replies sent by ordinary post are actually delivered to the Post Box. It is not uncommon for public authorities to show the entry of a reply being sent in their outward dak register despite the letter never reaching the addressee for a variety of reasons. So the Post Box solution will only create more problems for the RTI applciant under the garb of protecting his/her identity.

 

Third, it is very common for RTI applicants to seek large amounts of information in one request. The size of the average Post Box is so small that large envelopes will simply not fit into the slot in each box meant for dropping in letters. At the most an envelope containing about 10 sheets of paper may fit into the box through the slot with some difficulty. Larger sized packets will have to be put in only by opening the box. This means the Box will be opened up by he Postman without the permission of the addressee. Is this is a viable proposition? I am not too sure if the Dept. of Posts will feel encouraged to make other arrangements to store large sized packets outside the Post Box for the RTI applicants to come and collect them in person unless a system is created where the customer pays for such services. Creating such a facility in all post offices with Post Box facility will be resource heavy. As CHRI has rented a Post Box for official use in Delhi, I was able to make an assessment of the situation by visiting the spot where the Post Boxes are maintained.

 

Fourth, the petitioner and the Court seem to have assumed that all post offices will have post box facility so that any person living in any part of the city/town or village will be able to visit the post office to collect his/her letters. There may be thousands of small post offices particularly in villages that do not have such a facility. So the applicant will have to spend extra money to visit the nearest post office that has post box facilities. In Rural India 'near' actually means 'far' for many villages and hamlets. RTI users have been attacked or murdered in villages also and not merely in cities and towns. An easy seeming solution at the surface level shows more problems when examined in depth.

Post Box will not end the culture of impunity

With the greatest respect to the wisdom of the Court, I believe the judgement, though useful, is only a stop gap measure and of limited use. RTI is a deemed fundamental right. If its parent right, namely, the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and other equally or more important fundamental rights such as the right to life and liberty, the right to education, the right to health, the right to shelter, the right to food, the right to adequate amounts of potable water, the right to other basic amenities, the right to profess one's religion can all be enjoyed in the open without having to mask the identity of the rights-bearer, why should the use of RTI be subject to confidentiality? If the State is unable to ensure the safety of a citizen who legitimately exercises his/her fundamental right because it irks someone else, then the foremost responsibility for such a state of affairs lies with the State itself. RTI would then sadly join the list of some other human rights, such as, the right to marry by one's own choice, the right not to be sexually assaulted in whatever manner by whosoever, the right of girl children not to be terminated at the foetal stage just because they do not have the Y chromosome in their genome, which are violated every day with the State not being effective in curbing such violations.

Some other practical solutions

The first and foremost solution is for the corruptors and the corrupted not to indulge in such activities. If this happens there will be no fear in disclosing under the RTI Act, simple information, such as, muster rolls (wage registers), names of housing assistance beneficiaries under the Indira Awaas Yojana or records of the money spent on non-existent roads and buildings which many of the RTI users who were attacked or murdered sought under the RTI Act. "Okay, that sounds like a pipe dream to me too :-D"

 

Better, still, the State should ensure an atmosphere of real protection for the people by enacting and effectively implementing the whistleblower protection law (which covers ordinary citizens also) and the basket of new legislation and amendments to existing laws aimed at combatting corruption and providing better service delivery that are pending in Parliament. A respectable taxpaying and voting citizen of this country should not be compelled to hide his/her identity to avoid being targetted just because he/she exercised his/her fundamental right. All cases of attacks on RTI users must be investigated forthwith and the guilty brought to book. Certainty of punishment will act as a deterrent for all potential attackers and murderers. Information Commissions and Human Rights Commissions must take on the role of monitoring the progress in every such case. A country cannot reasonably aspire to be a super power without ensuring freedom from fear for its people vis-a-vis its own people.

 

This judgement needs to be debated further before we start writing letters to the departments overseeing compliance with the RTI Act to incorporate the Calcutta High Court's directions in implementation guidelines.

 

Please circulate this email widely.Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

Venkatesh Nayak

Access to Information Programme

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

 

 

Speed Post and Registered Post Letters and even Parcels, VPP Articles, Money Orders can be sent to Post Box address apart from ordinary unregistered letters.

All the articles which are registered eg. by Speed Post or Reg. Post are delivered to the actual address of the Post Box holder which he/she provided while renting the Post Box.

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