The Central Information Commission has directed the Indian Missions in six Gulf countries to proactively disclose data in future on any death of Indians there mentioning the year of death, total numbers, gender and the cause of death, if available.
The order came on a plea of Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative who had approached Indian Missions in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar seeking to know the year-wise list of names, age, sex, and occupation of Indian workers who had died in the period from January 1, 2012. He had also sought information on the cause of death as mentioned in the death certificates but was dissatisfied with their response.
In his decision, Chief Information Commissioner YK Sinha said disclosure of certain details as sought by Nayak can lead to its misuse, hence the Commission is not inclined to allow disclosure of the information which is likely to be used in abusing the process of law.
“Under the circumstances, balancing larger public interest with the right to privacy of the deceased and their families, the Commission hereby directs the various Respondents who are parties in this case to disclose data in future regarding the year of death, the total number of deaths of Indians, sex of the deceased and cause of death, if available,” Sinha ordered.
He directed the External Affairs Ministry to apprise Indian Missions and Posts to take steps for the suo motu disclosure of the above information in the future in accordance with Section 4 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005. Sinha told the Missions that there are variations in their RTI responses on the issue and they should provide “uniform” responses to the applications filed by Nayak.
In its response to Nayak, the Indian Embassy in Doha had said it does not maintain such a list, and if such a list of 1500 persons is compiled, it would disproportionately divert its resources. It also said in cases of suicide, disclosing name and occupation will not serve any larger public interest and families in such cases do not want the names of their loved ones disclosed. Other embassies also provided only partial information following which Nak approached the Commission with his appeal.
During the hearing, Nayak argued that the information sought is in the larger public interest as substantial foreign remittances made by Indian workers working outside India are a major source of foreign exchange for India. “He (Nayak) stated that only certain generic information was sought in his RTI application disclosure of which will not lead to violation of Section 8 (1) (j) (exempting Personal Information) of the RTI Act, 2005,” Sinha said.
He further stated that the Indian Embassies in Kuwait and Bahrain have provided some information to him but none of them have shared occupation details of the deceased, Sinha noted. The advocate representing the Embassy of India, Bahrain stated that the right to information is not an absolute right and is subject to the provisions of the Act. He further stated that the information available on the website of the embassy is only for the purpose of transportation of mortal remains and contains only the name, date and cause of death and disposal mode, etc which is required for logistical purposes, the CIC noted.
“However, information about occupation details of a deceased citizen is not disclosed being personal information exempted from disclosure as per Section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act, 2005. “He further stated that the details already uploaded on the website for the year 2014-18 may fall within the definition of personal information hence it is presently explored if these details can be removed from the website,” Sinha noted from the submissions of the advocate.