New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Assam Government on an appeal from N.Rajamarthandan, a 2008-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer who is under arrest for disclosing information under the Right to Information Act (RTI. relating to the investigation of the attack on the office of All Assam Students Union (AASU) in March.
In March 2017, the All Asam Students Union’s office was allegedly attacked by theNikhil Bharat Bangali Udbastu Samannay Samiti (NBBUSS), a group that supports granting citizenship to Hindu Bengalis from Bangladesh.
Rajamarthandan, who was the supervisory officer of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the attack was arrested for disclosing allegedly confidential information relating to the ongoing investigation to an RTI applicant.
The arrest has led to dismay among IPS officers across the country. The Indian Police Service (Central) Association Secretary, P.V.Rama Sastry, has urged an independent probe into the incident by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Rajamarthandan has been in jail custody since April 7 in connection with alleged offences under Section 120B and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code read with Section 98(a) of the Assam Police Act, 2007 and Section 5(1)(b) of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
Rajamarthandan’s senior counsel, Nitya Ramakrishnan, submitted before the Gauhati high court that as the head of the SIT, constituted by the Assam Police to monitor, supervise and assist the investigating officer of Silapathar,he only provided the relevant information as regards the progress report prepared by him. Rajamarthandan duly forwarded its copy to the Director General of Police, Assam and four other officers and also to the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Dhemaji, Assam. The court rejected his plea for bail on May 15,
Nevertheless, it was contended before the high court that Rajamarthandan was duly authorised to prepare the progress report, which could not even be remotely inferred as confidential. Nor did that information fall under the category exempted under the RTI Act from disclosure. The case diary was prepared by the investigating officer who was investigating it under Section 172 of Cr.PC., and Rajamarthandan’s progress report relied on it.
In terms of the proviso to Section 7 of the RTI Act, it is mandated that wherever any information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person then the same shall be provided within 48 hours of receipt of the request. The High Court was told that Rajamarthandan disclosed the information in discharge of his duty under the RTI Act and therefore, no legal proceedings is maintainable against him.
It was further submitted before the high court that Section 22 of the RTI Act has overriding effect over the operation of any of the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act and that CID being a State Government Organization cannot claim exemption under the Act.
Further, as any information pertaining to the allegation of corruption and human rights violation is not being excluded, Rajamarthandan was bound to provide the information to the RTI applicant as the information sought related to the violation of human rights, the High Court was told.
However, additional public prosecutor, T.K.Mishra alleged before the high court that Rajamarthandan filed the RTI fee of Rs.10, through the Indian Postal Order, in the name of the RTI applicant and even forged his signature.
Ramakrishnan, however, has described these allegations as fabricated and submitted before the high court that although the allegation of forgery is serious, it does not require his detention. Although the option of transfer of Rajamarthandan to any other place during the investigation, so as to rule out scope for undue influence, is available to the state, the state has chosen to not exercise this option.
Besides, the state has suggested to the high court that the CID is one of the categories exempted from disclosure of information under the RTI Act, and therefore, he could not have overcome the statutory bar in the manner he did. This gives rise to the question, whether arrest and detention should be the response if the officer honestly believed that the bar against disclosure would not apply in this case because it involved human rights.
As the Supreme Court hears Rajamarthandan’s plea for bail on June 19, it may turn out to be a test case for deciding whether an officer can proactively disclose information, thus complying with the larger objectives of the RTI Act, without violating the requirements of confidentiality. It may also reveal how the absence of a provision in the RTI Act to defend officers who are proactive in disclosure of information may defeat the Act’s very objectives.