The Madras High Court prioritised the disposal of a Right to Information appeal filed seeking information on the Personal Data Protection Bill,2019. This move was taken up amidst rising concerns regarding Bill’s possible role in misusing citizens’ data reports SAIKEERTHI.
The Madras High Court Monday directed the Central Information Commission (CIC) to dispose of a Right to Information (RTI) appeal filed by journalist Saurav Das which is against the denial of the certain information pertaining to the ‘Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019’.
The bill is expected to be tabled in the ongoing Budget Session in the Parliament.
Das in the RTI application sought for a copy of “A Free and Fair Digital Economy: Protecting Privacy, Empowering Indians”. It is a report filed by the Committee of Experts under the Chairmanship of Justice BN Srikrishna.
Additionally, he also requested certified copies of ministerial filings, opinions, comments, remarks, proposals and any communications exchanged while drafting the Personal Data Protection Bill. He also sought details regarding the provisions related to the establishment of the Data Protection Authority.
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) on August 31, 2020, refused to disclose the information citing “confidentiality”.
Das approached the CIC against the refusal to share information with information and sought an urgent hearing from the CIC which was denied.
Das argued that he wanted to make his objections in the Bill after getting information and hence, he needed timely information.
Directions by Madras HC
Justice M Govindraj directed the CIC to dispose of the pending RTI appeal in a month. He stated that if the Data Protection Bill is to be placed in the ongoing Parliamentary session, then Das’s appeal has to be disposed of within a period of one month from the date of the receipt of a copy of the order.
If the Bill is going to be placed in the next session, the Second Appeal shall be disposed of within a period of two months from the date of receipt of a copy this order, the Court said.
Das was represented by Advocate MV Swaroop and the Central Government Standing Counsel, Venkataswamy Babu represented the respondent authorities.
In the petition filed by Saurav Das, he had quoted concerns raised by Justice BN Srikrishna who led the committee that drafted the Data Protection Bill. He had termed the Bill “dangerous”. He also said that the Bill could turn India into an ‘Orwellian State’ or into a political system where the government seeks to control every part of the peoples’ lives.
The petition also states that Justice Srikrishna further explained that the Centre has removed several safeguards. This could provide the government access to private data on grounds of sovereignty or public order. This is bound to have dangerous implications on the lives of the people.
In February 2020, in a note to the Select Committee of the Parliament, Justice Srikrishna had stated that the government can play a dominant role in the Data Protection Authority and these exemptions will have serious implications.
Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019
The bill seeks to safeguard the privacy of Indian citizens through the establishment of a Data Protection Authority for regulating the same. The Bill is currently under consideration by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
Lok Sabha had recently extended the time for the submission of the Committee’s report till March 14th, 2021. This decision raised questions regarding whether the Bill will be presented in the current Parliamentary session.
(Saikeerthi is a final year journalism student at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication and an intern with The Leaflet)