The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has approached the Delhi High Court claiming protection from disclosing information held by it on allegations of corruption under the Right to Information Act.
The CBI’s move to approach the Delhi High Court came on a Central Information Commission decision allowing RTI plea of activist C.J. Karira who had sought information related to status of sanction for prosecution against public servants facing allegations of corruption during 2007-11.
Ironically, the information which CBI wanted to withhold on this RTI plea has been disclosed by Ministry of Personnel in a number of responses to Parliament members.
The court of Justice Rajiv Shakdher has stayed the CIC order and fixed the matter on April 3.
In 2011, the central government brought CBI which was probing several high profile corruption cases including 2G spectrum scam, CWG case, illegal mining case, and the Adarsh Housing Society scam, under the schedule of organisations exempted from making disclosure under the RTI Act.
According to Section 24 (1) of the RTI Act, under which exempted organisations have been listed, “the information” (defined as any material in any form held by or under the control of a public authority) pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights do not enjoy the cover.
In one of the cases cited by CBI itself in its plea before the High Court, the CIC had directed the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (an exempted organisation) to disclose information related to allegations of corruption.
A full bench of the CIC had also directed Enforcement Directorate to disclose information related to black money as it was considered to be a case of alleged corruption.
In its plea before the High Court, CBI has claimed that provision of allegations of corruption is only applicable when it is against its employees and not all the information held by or under its control.
The contention of the agency, facing criticism from political parties and social activists for poor record in high profile corruption cases, has been rejected by CIC, activists and Information Commissioners.
Former Chief Information Commissioner A.N. Tiwari said that Section 24 must be read in accordance with definition of ‘information’ and the Right to Information given under the transparency law. According to RTI Act, ‘information’ is any material in any form held by or under the control of a public authority.
Mr. Tiwari said the section says “the information (any material in any form held by or under the control of a public authority) pertaining to allegations of corruption does not come under exemptions given to security and intelligence agencies.” He said when a person applies for the information pertaining to alleged corruption, it can be disclosed.
The CBI has pleaded before the High Court that its primary job is to probe corruption cases and disclosing information about them would make the exemption given to the agency infructous.
In his order, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra had clarified the point saying the RTI Act neither makes distinction between the exempted organisations on the basis of the functions they perform nor between allegations of corruption on the basis whether it is made against the employees of the exempt organisation or others.
RTI activist Subhash Agrawal cited a Madras High Court order in a case of Directorate of Vigilance and Anti- Corruption (an exempted organisation of Tamil Nadu Government similar to CBI) Vs R. Karthikeyan and V. Madhav where it ordered to disclose information related to corruption.