The Supreme Court has dismissed the Enforcement Directorate plea seeking exemption from production of documents related to investigations into the “oil-for-food” scam before the Central Information Commission.
The Commission had directed the ED to produce the file of the probe into the scam for its perusal to decide on its disclosure under the RTI Act.
The scam led to the ouster of former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh from the Cabinet in 2004 for his alleged role.
The bench comprising Justice A.K. Ganguly and Justice G.S. Singhvi trashed the arguments put forth by the government against the production of file before the CIC. In his observations, Justice Ganguly said CIC has powers to peruse the file. He said there was so much of corruption in the country and the RTI Act was a “breath of fresh air”. He said the Act has even been applied to the judiciary and “we welcome it.”
“The ED kept saying that they are investigating the case for the last five years but they are shying to show the progress to Central Information Commission. The file will now have to be shown to the CIC,” Prashant Bhushan, senior lawyer who appeared for applicant Arun Agrawal said.
RTI applicant Mr. Agrawal had sought the entire file containing note sheets relating to the report of Virendra Dayal, appointed by the government as special envoy to coordinate with UN officials on the Paul Volcker Committee report.
After initial reluctance and repeated transfers, the Finance Ministry accepted that the file was with the Enforcement Directorate, which is an exempted organisation under the transparency law.
The Paul Volcker Committee was set up by the United Nations in April 2004 to probe corruption and fraud in its Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq, in which name of former External Affairs minister Natwar Singh also allegedly figured as a beneficiary.
The Central Information Commission had directed the Enforcement Directorate to produce the file before it prior to deciding on the records’ exemption from disclosure under the RTI Act.
The Enforcement Directorate had challenged the decision in the High Court, pleading that the CIC had expanded the scope of the appeal pending before it.
It said the Commission cannot call for records pertaining to ongoing investigations in the light of its limited powers.
However, the High Court had said “CIC has jurisdiction to decide whether proviso to Section 24 (1) of the Act is applicable and whether conditions mentioned in section 8(1) of the Act are satisfied. To satisfy and have a just and fair decision, CIC can direct production of records and examine them.”