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Citizens' right to privacy should be protected: Pranab

Sep 03, 2013

Governance in a democracy is all about the trust between a citizen and the government, said the Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee.

Lauding the role of Right to Information Act in promoting transparency, President Pranab Mukherjee has stressed on adequate safeguards to protect the "inviolable rights to privacy" of a citizen.

The President also said government must do everything possible to create "an informed citizenry which is vital for the functioning of our democracy".

"Our enthusiasm about transparency and democracy should not make us ignore, even for a moment, the fact that the citizen, who is at the heart of all these arrangements is also an individual with certain inviolable rights to privacy," Mukherjee said in his speech in New Delhi on Monday.

Inaugurating the annual convention of the Central Information Commission, the President said there are provisions in the RTI Act which deal with the issue of privacy but there are still certain areas which need further clarity.

"There is a wafer thin difference between what is public and what is private...There is perhaps a need to create an arrangement that will provide protection to individuals in case their privacy is breached through unlawful means," the President said.

He also emphasised on the need for effectively using information communication technologies for data-keeping which is also mandatory under section four of the RTI Act.

"With the improvement in data management practices and by computerization of records and work flow, citizens should be able to locate on their own the status of their requests in the work flow artery of public authorities," he said.

The President said governance in a democracy is all about fiduciary and trust between a citizen and the government.

"The RTI Act must not be seen as a zero sum game between the citizen and Public Authorities. Governance in a democracy is all about fiduciary and trust and the level of a trust between the citizen and the government is one of the best indicators of mature democracy," he said.

The President said public authorities in the country must be proactive and voluntarily put information in the public domain for the use of citizens.

"A large number of appeals and complaints before the Commission, however, are also indicative of the need for enhancement in the quality of voluntary disclosure so that information-seekers are not required to join long queues," Mukherjee said.

He welcomed the initiative of the Department of Personnel and Training for launching a web portal enabling the citizens to file RTI applications and first appeals online.

The President also welcomed the move of the government to expand the scope of proactive disclosures under section four of the RTI Act by inter alia including CAG and PAC audit paras, PPPs, information relating to procurements, foreign tours of senior government functionaries etc.

"This circular requires the Ministry/Departments/Public Authorities to make their proactive disclosures audited by the third party and report them to the Government of India and to the Central Information Commission. Such information placed on a common portal would go a long way in improving monitoring and reporting procedures," he said.

Earlier, speaking on the occasion, outgoing Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra said the number of RTI applications received by public authorities in the country has registered an increase year after year but cautioned that increasing number of applications might not indicate rightful use of the transparency law.

"We need not be despondent about the future of the RTI only on the grounds that a large number of citizens are not using it...More quality use of this right to bring about better governance and larger public good, that is not happening to the extent expected," he said.

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