Calling a thief, a thief, is no defamation, says Information Commissioner, who was punished for ordering inspection of PM Modi’s degree

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Remember Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu, who was punished for inspection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s degree in 2017? Days after he ordered the inspection of Modi’s degree, he had lost his responsibility for the ministry of HRD.

Modi's degree

Acharyulu, who remained out of public glare since then, is now back in new for his extraordinary commentary on the recommendations made by Srikrishna Committee recommendations on the RTI. Writing for a newspaper, Acharyulu said that the changes recommended by Srikrishna Committee, if implemented, will kill the RTI, which was enacted to ensure the transparency in governance and the functioning of the government.

In his extraordinary article, the information commissioner wrote that calling a thief, a thief was no defamation because ‘truth is justification for defamation as per law.’

“What the Srikrishna Committee has recommended is unconstitutional and unwarranted. The present Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI law offers a balance between right to privacy of public servants and the ‘public interest’ served by disclosure of information, much of which was held to be ‘official secrets’ until RTI Act was passed in 2005. The Srikrishna Committee’s amendments to RTI law must be rejected completely,” Acharyulu wrote in Deccan Herald.

Acharyulu is essentially contesting the basic argument made in favour of the changes by Srikrishna Committee that PIO can deny ‘information which relates to personal data which is likely to cause harm to a data principal, where such harm outweighs the public interest in accessing such information having due regard to the common good of promoting transparency and accountability in the functioning of the public authority.’

“It appears innocent. But, with wide-open and ambiguous expressions such as ‘relates to personal data’ and ‘likely’, the suggested amendment would practically kill the RTI,” he added.

Last month, Congress President Rahul Gandhi had reacted sharply to the proposals made by Srikrishna Conmittee saying that the proposed changes will render the RTI Act useless. He had tweeted, “Every Indian deserves to know the truth and the BJP wants to hide the truth.The BJP believes the truth must be hidden from the people and they must not question people in power. The changes proposed to the RTI will make it a useless Act.”

The Justice Srikrishna panel on data protection this July had called for amending the Right to Information Act to restrict non-disclosure of information only in cases where harm to an individual outweighs the common good of transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities.

In its 213-page report that calls for a new legislation to protect an individual’s right over his data, the committee said neither the right to privacy nor the right to information is absolute and the two will have to be balanced against each other in some circumstances.

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