The CBI cannot take refuge in the exemption clause under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to deny information related to corruption cases, the CIC has said. Hearing a case filed by whistleblower bureaucrat Sanjiv Chaturvedi, the transparency watchdog said the central public information officer (CPIO) has "grossly erred" in invoking the veil of section 24 of the RTI Act mechanically without assessing the nature of the information sought and the same is viewed adversely by the commission.
Section 24 of the RTI Act exempts certain intelligence and security organizations from the ambit of the transparency law except for information "pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations". Citing a verdict by the Delhi High Court as well as on the basis of proceedings during the hearing, the Commission is convinced regarding the "allegation of corruption" in the instant matter and the respondent cannot take refuge in section 24 of the RTI Act for denying information, Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha said.
"Keeping in view the totality of circumstances discussed above, the Commission directs the CPIO to provide information as sought in the RTI application to the appellant free of cost within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order," Sinha said in a recent order. Chaturvedi had sought certified copies of all the file noting/documents/ correspondences related to the investigation done by the CBI on the basis of corruption complaints at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
He had inquired about these corruption cases during his tenure as the chief vigilance officer (CVO), who acts as a distant arm of the Central Vigilance Commission to deal with corruption cases, from July 2012 to August 2014, at AIIMS, Delhi. Chaturvedi had then forwarded these corruption cases to the CBI, seeking an investigation.
The CPIO of CBI, mandated under the transparency act to deal with RTI applications and is the first appellate authority, denied the information, claiming an exemption under section 24 of the RTI law. Aggrieved by the response, Chaturvedi approached the CIC. Chaturvedi has also asked the commission to impose the maximum penalty on the CPIO, CBI, for denying information without applying the proper exemption clause stipulated in the RTI Act.
"As regards, appellant's request for imposition of penalty, based on the strength of the material on record as well as proceedings during the hearing, Commission does not find any mala fide intention on the part of the CPIO in denying information sought in the RTI application. No action is warranted under section 20 of the RTI Act in the matter," Sinha said.
He cited the Delhi High Court's order in the matter of Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Chaturvedi on the applicability of the exemption clause under section 24 of the RTI Act. "The plain reading of the proviso shows that the exclusion is applicable with regard to any information. The term 'any information' would include within its ambit all kinds of information. The proviso becomes applicable if the information pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violation. The proviso is not qualified and conditional on the information being related to the exempt intelligence and security organizations," the court had said.
It had held that if the information sought from exempt intelligence and security organizations pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violation, it would be exempt from the exclusion clause. "The proviso 'Provided that the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded under this sub-section' has to be read in the light of the preceding phrase 'or any information furnished by such organizations to that government'," the court verdict reads.
When read together, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that if the information sought pertains to allegation of corruption and human rights violation, it would be exempt from the exclusion clause, irrespective of the fact that the information pertains to the exempt intelligence and security organizations or not or pertains to an officer of the Intelligence Bureau or not, said the court's order, cited by the Information Commissioner in his order.
"The aforesaid ratio laid down with respect to the Intelligence Bureau is squarely applicable to the case of CBI also," Sinha said in his order.