What a Faux Pas! When PIO Denies Information for Want of Consent from ‘Deceased’ Third Party
A third party clause is invoked by any public information officer (PIO) under the RTI (Right to Information) Act if he denies information citing personal information. According to it, if a PIO intends to disclose it to the RTI applicant, he could do it only after an okay from the third party.
 
So far, so good. However, in the case of an aggrieved son, grieving for his mother who passed away after being admitted to the AIIMS Hospital, alleging medical negligence by doctors; his tryst with the RTI led to a near dead-end, as the PIO insisted on third-party clearance.
 
Though the dead can’t defend themselves, central information commissioner (CIC) Heeralal Samariya has come to the rescue of RTI applicant Pawan Kumar Goyal. Mr Samariya, in his order of 21 February 2023, observed that the information sought by Mr Goyal qualifies for third-party information, and it is exempted from disclosure as per Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, since his mother has expired, Mr Samariya directed the PIO to furnish the relevant information related to his mother only after the applicant has provided the legal heir certificate. 
 
The CIC further ordered the PIO that, “in case relevant information, as sought in the instant RTI Application, pertains to some other Branch/Department, then the PIO should procure and provide the same to the Appellant.”
 
Mr Goyal sought the following information from the AIIMS: “My mother Sulochana Goyal was admitted to AIIMS on the 25th May 2021 evening and discharged on 26th May 2021. Her Blood Pressure (BP) was on the lower side and yet Intra Aortic Balloon Pump (IABP) was not used and was inducted into her body. Why was IABP not used Please give the treatment chart and all papers related to her treatment in AIIMS.” Mr Goyal rued that his mother expired due to medical negligence and so wanted to know the procedures that were carried out while treating his mother.
 
The CPIO (chief public information officer) replied by using Section 11 which mentions the third-party clause and applied it under the Section 8 exemption clauses. He replied, “The requested information related to personal information, disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, hence information cannot be provided under Section 8 (1)(j) of the RTI Act.” Even though the patient about whom the requisition was made is no more, the CPIO used the third-party clause.
 
This Section 8(j) states, information that relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the central public information officer or the state public information officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a state legislature shall not be denied to any person.
 
Mr Goyal went in for a first appeal and, being disappointed with the denial of the information, made a second appeal in May 2022. The CIC hearing was held on 15 February 2023. Mr Goyal complained to the CIC that his mother did not receive “proper treatment from the hospital (AIIMS) due to which she has expired.” He further requested the CIC to direct the CPIO to provide the relevant information regarding the treatment chart and treatment bills of his mother. 
 
The CPIO, during the hearing, stated that the information is regarding the appellant’s mother which becomes third-party information and is exempted under Section 8(1)(j). After he was directed by the CIC to provide the information, the CPIO assured him to abide by the orders of the Commission, which is to give information after Mr Goyal establishes his credentials as the son.
 
(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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