Can a PO Box number be used to file an application under RTI Act?
Hearing a Public Interest Petition, a division bench of Calcutta High Court has ruled that the while seeking information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the disclosure of identity of an individual is not mandatory. The division bench of Justices Ashim Banerjee and Debangshu Basak said “The ministry or department concerned may insist upon personal details of the applicants. However, in such case it would be the solemn duty of the departments to hide such information (applicants’ identity), and particularly from their websites, so the people at large would not be able to access the details of the applicants.” The bench held that “We find logic in the petitioner’s submission. Applicants need not disclose their personal details. The authorities should not insist the applicants on disclosing their identities.”
RTI activist Abhishekh Goenka had filed an application seeking information under the RTI Act seeking certain information using a PO Box number which did not disclose his identity. However, the information was denied to him as the state department insisted that the identity of the declarant should be declared. Goenka argued in his petition that a citizen has the right to obtain information under the RTI Act by using post box to protect his life or risk harassment as disclosing the identity mandatorily may lead to hazards for the RTI applicant. He stated that RTI activists are vulnerable human rights defenders who often act alone, against the corruption and other illegal activities of persons who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed.
Further, the division bench has directed the ministry of personnel to circulate its order to all the ministries “so that authorities should take appropriate measures to hide information in regard to personal details of the applicants”.
The relevant section of the RTI Act dealing with the issue is section 3 which says, “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all citizens shall have the right to information”. So far the section 3 of the RTI Act was interpreted to mean that only the citizens have the right to file an application under the RTI Act.