IC Compels PIO To Provide Information under RTI on In-laws Criminal Records To Son-in-law for his Child’s Safety
While at the macro level, the government keeps making attempts to dilute the strong Right to Information (RTI) Act; at the micro level, the common man continues to use it for information that may seem personal but often has social ramifications. When the information sought is denied by the public information officer (PIO) but directed to be given by the information commissioner (IC), the RTI applicant feels a sense of empowerment.
Does an RTI applicant have the right to access the criminal records of his in-laws? Yes, going by the recent chief information commissioner (CIC)’s verdict on 5th December. IC of Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Singh, directed the PIO to provide information to the son-in-law pertaining to the criminal records of his wife’s parents. Mr Singh’s argument is the safety of his child (his estranged wife is living with her parents) is of prime importance to him and hence, the father must know the details of the criminal records of his in-laws. And therefore, this disclosure does not come under personal information.
Sanjay Kumar (name changed), a resident of Kota in Rajasthan, filed an RTI application with the office of the superintendent of police, Gwalior, seeking information about the criminal records of his in-laws. However, the PIO refused to disclose it, citing it as personal information. The RTI applicant, during the second appeal hearing, informed IC Singh that this information is crucial for him as custody of his little daughter is with his in-laws. His marriage took place in Gwalior; however, after family disputes, his wife started living with her parents in Gwalior, leading to legal proceedings for divorce and child custody.
During the hearing, IC Singh asked the PIO, office of Superintendent of Police (SP) at Gwalior, as to how a person's criminal record could be considered personal information. He emphasised that society has the right to know who is committing crimes against its members, ensuring that individuals can remain vigilant and safe. Mr Singh objected to the police withholding information, stating that if a crime is classified as private information, every offender will claim it as their private matter, preventing the disclosure of information.
Mr Singh emphasised in his order that information concerning the safety of one's children is not only a parental right but also entails the child's responsibility and accountability.
In his order, IC Singh stated that the father is concerned that members of his in-laws’ family have a criminal record, which may not be suitable for the safety and nurturing of his child. Mr Singh observed that the Indian Constitution places responsibility and accountability on both parents in matters related to children. He pointed out that various laws at the central and state levels are designed for the protection and welfare of children.
Emphasising the need for transparency in information related to child safety, Mr Singh explained that “RTI is directly linked to fundamental rights such as the right to life and freedom under the constitutional framework. If a child is in danger or there are questions about their freedom or life, a citizen of this country has the right to know information related to children to ensure their protection according to constitutional provisions.”
Mr Singh also rejected the order to withhold information by the superintendent of police, Gwalior, who is the first appellate authority (FAA). Mr Singh has ordered the office of the SP, Gwalior, to provide the required information. The next hearing is on 15th January and a show-cause notice has been issued by Mr Singh to additional SP, Gwalior, Rishikesh Meena, seeking an explanation for unlawfully obstructing information.
 (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)
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