In a move to protect whistle-blowers in the country, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday ruled that a petition under the Right to Information (RTI) Act can be made by using only a post box number without giving the name and address.
The ruling was aimed at protecting applicants or RTI activists from attack or harassment by persons who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed.
Acting chief justice Ashim Kumar Banerjee and justice Debangsu Basak passed the order on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Avishek Goenka, challenging the rejection of his RTI application made to a central government department by using his post box number to protect his identity.
Goenka had applied under the RTI Act by using his post box number, but his application was rejected on the ground that he had not disclosed his identity by mentioning his address.
According to estimates, during the last six years, about 150 RTI activists had become victims for seeking information by giving their names and addresses:
Attacks against RTI activists
Moving the petition, Goenka argued that a person has the right to apply for obtaining information under the RTI Act by using post box to protect his life.
“RTI activists are vulnerable human rights defenders in India. They often act alone, moved by anger at corruption and other illegal activities of public authorities and political leaders who do not want information about their activities to be disclosed,” Goenka said.
“RTI activists receive media attention only when killed or seriously injured. When complaints are made by RTI activists, law enforcement personnel (who often work with corrupt officials) do not take appropriate action. Therefore, such activists should not have been identified and their lives could have been protected if they were allowed to apply under the RTI Act by using post box number,” Goenka said.
Protection of RTI activists was also raised in Parliament several times during 2010. The Bombay High Court, when hearing the case of the murder of RTI activist Satish Shetty in Maharashtra on 7 May 2010, ordered the state to provide police protection to any person complaining of threats or the use of force after filing RTI application.
The order of the Calcutta High Court means that it would be applicable only in West Bengal and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Other states may follow the order but it is not a binding upon them.