In a path-breaking order on the Right to Information (RTI), the State Information Commission asked the Public Information Officer (PIO) of JJ Hospital to give all medical reports, including ECG pertaining to his hospitalisation, along those made at the time of discharge within seven days.
The appeal was filed by city activist Shailesh Gandhi seeking medical records of former state forest minister Surupsinh Naik. The order held that larger public interest would be served by disclosure of information rather than creating doubts in the public mind.
The full Bench consisting of Chief Information Commissioner Suresh Joshi, Vilas Patil (Nagpur), Vilas Borge (Aurangabad) and VV Kuwalekar (Pune) argued that the case had contradictory points - right to privacy vis-à-vis right to know, which need to be weighed to arrive at the decision. “People feel that those in high places or have money power when imprisoned get shifted to hospitals under one pretext or the other and spend their jail term in the hospitals. However, there could be genuine requirement also for the imprisoned person for specialised medical supervision”, reads the order.
The Bench said disclosure of such information would remove the veil of secrecy and let people know the actual position and would do justice to everyone - jail and medical authorities. Incidentally, Naik failed to respond when the JJ Hospital authorities asked for his consent to disclose his medical records. The Bench took the legal support of section 8 (j) of the RTI Act, provisions of which contemplates that the information which could be revealed to State Legislature, cannot be denied to the public. When the PIO of the hospital admitted that the pertaining information could be denied to the Legislature, the Bench held that it would be unjustified to deny the same to the activist.
Responding to the order, Pravin Shingare, dean, JJ Hospital said, “I have not received any court order so far. Once I receive it, I will read it and act accordingly.” Explaining the hospital’s stand on the issue, he said, “Earlier, I told the commission that unless the patient gives his consent or permission to reveal his personal medical records, we cannot do the same. If a patient’s medical data is asked by a stranger, we cannot give the details as it is classified information,” said Shingare.
After a nine-month fight, Shailesh was happy to get a positive reply though he questioned the earlier stand of the JJ dean giving reasons for rejecting the information, which had to be given by the PIO. “I’m against making personal medical records of people made public. But this case was about a convict, spending his jail term in hospital and thus involves larger public interest,” said the activist.
Chief Information Commissioner Suresh Joshi admitted that the complex and sensitive nature was main reason for the delay in issuing the order. “We believe that the records coming in the public domain would do good for everyone, including Naik.”