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Privacy issues & more: Disclose NLU Delhi teachers' live-in relationship status to rest rumours in ‘larger public interest’, says CIC

The Central Information Commission (CIC) asked two national law university faculty members to comment on an alleged live-in relationship between them, in response to a Right to Information (RTI) request filed in NLU Delhi by a relative of one of the two faculty members, reported Live Law.

Correction: The initially published version of the story had misreported the name of the university as NLU Orissa, not NLU Delhi. The error is regretted.

CIC commissioner and former Nalsar Hyderabad registrar Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu noted in his order, which names the two faculty members, that such disclosure was “the best way of countering rumours” and therefore served not just the “best interest” of the two faculty members but also the “larger public interest”, thus passing the test prescribed under the RTI Act 2005.

He wrote in the order: “Best way of countering rumors is publicizing truthful information. It is also in best interest of the two faculty members. Thus, Commission concludes that larger public interest will be served by disclosure, and interest in disclosure will outweigh the interest in non-disclosure, as per the test prescribed under sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 8.”

The step-brother of the wife of one of the two allegedly living-in faculty members had, according to Live Law’s report, made a complaint to the university. The university’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) had, within a month, provided “point wise information on the matter” and added that “a three member committee has been constituted to examine the matter”.

The step-brother then filed an RTI before the NLU asking for the comments of the two faculty members in response to the inquiry by the three-member committee. The question before the CIC was that whether these comments in response to the committee’s inquiry amount to personal information of the faculty members.

The CIC, observed that the applicant was legally not the aggrieved under the law of bigamy and therefore not entitled to the information, additionally also when the allegedly living-in faculty member’s wife had already made a representation that “no marital relationship has subsisted between the two for many years now, and that the University should not entertain any complaint from her brother, as the information being sought is of private nature”.

But the CIC ruled in favour of the RTI applicant, giving the following reasoning in its order:

“Disclosure of this ‘no comment’ of the two faculty members cannot result in any invasion of their privacy. In fact, disclosing these ‘comments’ will fulfill demand of appellant in one way and protect the dignity of three persons- appellant’s sister and two professions. Hence, as per section 8(2) Commission finds that this information has to be given in larger public interest to secure the reputation of an institute of justice education.”

“The best interest of a prestigious law university, in so far as its law faculty concerned, lies in the fact that people should not discuss teachers for wrong reasons, such unfounded and unjustified allegations provoke rumor mongers to work overtime, who need to be silenced by disclosure.”

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