New Delhi: The days of intelligence and investigating agencies denying information sought under the Right to Information Act 2005 by claiming exemption under Section 24(1) of the Act – even if the matter pertains to allegations of corruption or human rights abuse and are not covered by the exemption clause – appear to be coming to an end. In two distinct cases over the past month, the Delhi high court has directed premier agencies like the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to reveal information not covered by the exemption clause.
First IB, now CBI told to reveal information on corruption cases
A bench of the Delhi high court has directed the CBI to consider the plea of an RTI activist, Subhash Chandra Agarwal, about corruption within the agency. This direction has come less than a month after another bench of the Delhi high court upheld a decision of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and directed the IB to reveal why it refused disclose to whistleblower and Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi a report that cleared his name in a number of cases. The court told the agency to provide the officer with a copy of the report on the grounds that “the information sought by the respondent falls in the category of being exempt from the exclusion clause and is liable to be supplied”.
The latest order, by Justice Vibhu Bakhru, has come in a petition moved by the CBI against a CIC order passed in October 2012, directing the agency to provide information to petitioner Agarwal. He had moved an RTI application to know if the CBI had method of sharing information with the media about action taken by it against its own personnel accused of corruption. He had filed the application after the agency was reported to have arrested two of its officers, who were probing the Coalgate scam, for taking bribes.
The CBI had countered the CIC direction on the ground that it was included in the second schedule to the RTI Act and was exempted from its purview on account of the exemption granted to it by Section 24(1).
However, citing the order of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of August 23 in the case of CPIO, Intelligence Bureau vs Sanjiv Chaturvedi, Justice Bakhru noted that it has already been laid down by the court that if the information sought pertains to corruption or human rights violations, the agency is not exempt from the RTI Act.
In Chaturvedi’s case, the IB had moved the Delhi high court contending that the directions issued by the CIC – that the agency provide the applicant with a copy of the report which had cleared him in a number of cases – were contrary to Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. The impugned order was without jurisdiction in view of Second Schedule of Section 24 of the Act, wherein, not only has the IB been exempted, but the information it provided to the government has also been specifically exempted, the agency argued.
‘Exemption cannot be claimed in corruption, human rights cases’
Justice Sachdeva had, however, held that a reading of the proviso, “Provided that the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded under this sub-section” in the light of the preceding phrase “or any information furnished by such organisations to that government” only leads to the conclusion that “if the information sought pertains to allegation of corruption and human right violation, it would be exempt from the exclusion clause, irrespective of the fact that the information pertains to the exempt intelligence and security organisations or not or pertains to an officer of the IB or not.”
Justice Sachdeva had held that “the information sought by the respondent falls in the category of being exempt from the exclusion clause and is liable to be supplied”.
Citing him, Justice Bakhru said in Agarwal’s case, “in view of the above, the petition is disposed of by directing the petitioner to examine the respondent’s request. The information sought by the respondent would not be denied on the ground that CBI is excluded from the purview of the Act by virtue of Section 24(1) of the Act.”
However, he added that the CBI would be at liberty to examine whether the information sought is otherwise exempt from disclosure under Section 8(1) of the Act. “In the event the petitioner is of the view that the information sought is exempt under any of the clauses of Section 8(1) of the Act, the same would be communicated to the respondent within a period of six weeks from today. If aggrieved, the respondent would be at liberty to avail of such remedies as may be advised,” he said.