AIIMS negates RTI with media gag rider
as reported by Manoj Mitta, TNN | 2 Nov 2008 Times of India

NEW DELHI: In an ingenious attempt to have its cake and eat it too,
AIIMS has made a disclosure under the Right to Information Act that
negates the very openness it is meant to promote.

AIIMS told the RTI applicant that the information given was only meant for "personal consumption" and it could not be shared with the media without the hospital director's "written permission".

Conditional disclosure is contrary to the RTI Act, which allows the
applicant to use information obtained for any purpose. Section 6(2)
exempts the applicant from giving "any reason for requesting the
information".

AIIMS made the disclosure on a query seeking sensitive information
from its neonatal intensive care unit on infant mortality rates,
reasons for death, infections contracted by babies and the equipment
in use.

The provocation for AIIMS' unusual caveat on the use of data it
supplied on October 23 was the consequences of an earlier RTI query
from the same applicant, Rahul Verma of Uday Foundation for congenital
defects. It led to AIIMS facing National Human Rights Commission
proceedings.

While providing data to Rahul Verma of Uday Foundation on October 23
under an RTI query, professor of neonatology Dr A K Deorari, said in a
covering note, "We have provided this information for your personal
consumption. You are advised to take written permission from the
director, AIIMS, before sharing the information with media."

Two months ago, NHRC issued a notice to AIIMS over its RTI disclosure,
first reported in TOI, that 49 infants had died there during clinical
trials for testing new drugs and therapies over the previous
two-and-a-half years. AIIMS was forced to issue a clarification then,
saying that none of those 49 deaths were due to "the treatment
modalities under trial" and that they were rather caused by "high risk
and serious disease conditions that the children suffered from".

In his October 23 reply to the latest RTI query, Deorari sought to
justify his media embargo by making a tacit reference to the
controversy over the 49 deaths in his department.

"On earlier occasion, the facts were misrepresented by the media which
tarnished the image of AIIMS but more importantly of India."

The implication is that on issues that are potentially embarrassing to
it, AIIMS has assumed the authority to disclose information under RTI,
subject to the condition that the applicant keeps it a secret.

AIIMS's self-serving interpretation makes a mockery of the express
purpose of the law enacted three years ago: "to promote transparency
and accountability in the working of every public authority".

AIIMS negates RTI with media gag rider-India-The Times of India