The Punjab State Information Commission has rejected a plea seeking details on ex-India leave of more than 30 days by government employees during the past 10 years of service. The rationale is that such leave, as per norms, constituted a personal matter and had no bearing on the state exchequer.
The Right to Information (RTI) applicant from Sangrur, Prem Kumar Rattan — who had sought the employees’ applications for leave, the sanction, and copies of their passports and visa — also faces legal action as the commission has asked the senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Sangrur to register a case against him for furnishing a false undertaking after he had been refused information of the same nature earlier by the SIC. Information commissioner Surinder Awasthi pointed out that the applicant was aware of the case having been disposed of earlier by him, and had thus requested that the case now not be assigned to him this time.
The latest decision refers to a 2012 judgment of the Supreme Court, which says that salary details, including deductions, copies of memos, show-cause notices, inquiry proceedings and income tax returns, fall in the category of personal information, because disclosure of these would amount to invasion of privacy. “The information sought qualifies to be far more personal than those mentioned in the case decided by the Supreme Court,” says Awasthi’s decision, reiterating that the public information officer (PIO) concerned was not expected to provide information exempted under section 8(1) of the RTI Act.
While it must be mentioned here that the state vigilance bureau is investigating alleged misuse of ex-India leave by government employees, the SIC order says that if information related to ex-India leave were to be furnished, someone could even ask for leave availed within India, and the period thereof could be reduced or increased in the RTI pleas; resulting in no end to such requests and little time for the government departments to perform their core duties.
Explaining its express rationale, the judgment says the employees had taken leave for personal visits and there was no resultant burden on the state exchequer. The availing of leave, whichever kind, due to an employee is governed by service rules which fall under the expression “personal information”, disclosure of which has no relationship with public activity or public interest, it says.
The RTI Act, the apex court verdict says, should not be allowed to be misused or abused, nor be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officers.