Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) Bhopal has reportedly denied sharing information o an RTI query on the numbers of death of company employees due to Covid-19.
Bhopal-based RTI activist Ajay Patidar had filed an RTI application with the public sector undertaking seeking to know how many employees it had lost due to the pandemic till May 25.
The Central Public Information Officer of the PSU has declined the details under section 8 (1) (j) calling it a query from a third party ‘not in public interest’.
Patidar, who has now appealed the matter, told News18.com that the matter pertains to public interest as it deals with the wider issue of health. Opposing the denial of information, Patidar claimed that if remaining employees have this information, they can take measures for their safety on the campus and also ‘it (casualty figures) will reflect the efficiency of the industrial unit in safeguarding the workers’.
Information Commissioner of the MP State Information Commission, Rahul Singh told News18.com that the denial of information in this matter is unjust. The PSU could have sought objections from the kin concerned under section 11 of the RTI Act before sharing the information ‘which does not seem the case going by the reply’.
“How come the deaths due to a pandemic be called in public or personal interest, it’s a gross misuse of section 8 (1) (j), claimed the information commissioner adding schemes are linked to casualties so hiding this is not proper. The only information which can’t be provided to parliament or assembly could be denied under the Act," said Singh, adding that the section concerned is widely misused by PIOs for denying information under the RTI act.
Queries like information on salary, transfer-posting, vehicle log book are often denied under section 8 (1) (j) ostensibly over privacy which is wrong, said the information commissioner. The officer cited an example of then Rewa Collector OP Shrivastava who had denied information under the RTI Act under section 8 (1) (j). The information commissioner had not only rejected the order of the collector but had issued him a show-cause notice. “I have reversed several orders of PIOs who had denied sharing information on mark sheets and caste certificates," said Singh.
Ashish Chaturvedi, an RTI activist known for his RTI act exploits in the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, too agreed that section 8 (1) (j) is widely misused by government officers to suppress information. Even if the information is drawn later through appeals, the initial denial delays the entire process unnecessarily, he claimed.
He alleged that Central Information Commission and SICs remain lenient and don’t levy penalties in such cases.