The CIC has directed the Registrar General of India (RGI) to change its practices of data collection, especially with regard to births and deaths.
Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad, in an important order, issued directives to make changes in the software and practices of the RGI.
He was hearing a petition filed by an RTI applicant, seeking information about the deaths reported in all the wards of Mumbai in 2016.
The information was not provided to him, following which he approached the Central Information Commission (CIC).
During the hearing, the official representing the RGI said the office was a data aggregator.
He submitted that the states were tasked with the overall implementation under section 3 of the Registration of Births and Deaths (RBD) Act, whereas the ground-level record was maintained by the registrars appointed by the respective states, Azad noted.
"Despite the contention of the PIO that the CRS (Civil Registration System) Division of the Registrar General, India cannot be held to be the custodian of ward-wise data as sought by the appellant, the commission finds that the role of the Registrar General in the implementation of the RBD Act cannot be lost sight of," he said.
Azad added that the present controversy was limited only to the practices related to data maintenance and preservation.
"There is no legal impediment in the creation of two or more equally effective access points of information, both at the central as well as at the state level. It is rather a question of 'data mirroring' and the essential question raised in the present case requires forging new practices of data management, which is in furtherance of the RBD Act as well as the RTI Act," he said.
The CIC also took note of the PIO's submission that it was comparatively difficult to register the data of deaths with the cause of the deaths, in contrast to the data regarding births, Azad added.
"The judicious aggregation, as well as the preservation of the 'data of death', are very important for ensuring the quality of life of the living. The data is a crucial indicator of various factors, which is a key for ensuring good governance and efficient policy planning.
"The commission sees no reason to deny access to such important data to the citizenry at large, in a manner which facilitates a social audit of the quality of life across social and regional levels," he said.
"An information seeker must be able to know the precise data of deaths and births right from the fundamental unit such as villages and wards. The whole process of registration would be rendered futile if we, as a nation, do not have access to the data recorded at each level of social existence," Azad added.
"It is well within the powers of the Registrar General, India under section 3(3) of the RBD Act to issue 'general' directions regarding registration of births and deaths in the territories to which this Act extends. The directions issued by the commission are also in line with the promotion of coordination and unification of the activities of chief registrars in the matter of registration of births and deaths," Azad said.
Necessary changes in the software used for the purpose might be made if required, he added.
(With inputs from agencies.)