Politics

IB’s Refusal to Make Report on Whistleblower Public Draws Central Information Commission’s Ire

The central information officer has asked the Intelligence Bureau to explain why it objected to the environment ministry sharing its report that clears Sanjiv Chaturvedi’s name in a slew of false cases.

File photo of Sanjiv Chaturvedi. Credit: PTI

File photo of Sanjiv Chaturvedi. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has questioned the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on the latter’s refusal to disclose to bureaucrat and whistleblower Sanjiv Chaturvedi its report that clears his name in a number of cases. The IB had objected to the environment ministry sharing the report with Chaturvedi.

In an application to the CIC, Chaturvedi had said that obtaining the report would help him fight the violation of his human rights caused by those public servants whose corruption he had exposed as part of his duties as an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer. He had argued that the harassment and false allegations against him are directly linked to his exposure of corruption in the Haryana government, as well as at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

In response, Central Information Commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu has released an order asking the IB to either send an affidavit or an official representative to present its reasons for not allowing the report to be shared with Chaturvedi. The IB can avoid the hearing, slated for April 12, if they can send a copy of the report to Chaturvedi, or withdraw their objection to the environment ministry sharing it with him.

The report was sent to the cabinet secretary and the environment ministry in August 2014. A ministry official had sent Chaturvedi a note sheet of the file, which contained a summary of the report. In this note sheet, it was clear that the IB had concluded that the cases against Chaturvedi were false.

A summary of the report was also submitted by the Centre in a reply affidavit before the central administrative tribunal in New Delhi. This summary had read: “There appears to be truth in the contention of Shri Sanjiv Chaturvedi regarding alleged harassment meted out to him by Haryana Government. His request for change of cadre from Haryana to Uttarakhand merits consideration.”

In his order, Acharyulu said that it was clear that the report was no longer “a matter of secrecy,” having come into the public domain via media coverage and responses to RTI applications.

The CIC order also says that Chaturvedi has convinced the commission about the present threat to his personal security, noting that he is facing false allegations and has been forced to be on leave from work because he had exposed the afforestation scam in Haryana. It also argues that the IB report is essential for him to use in his defence in the various ongoing court cases.

The CIC said that Chaturvedi has also established urgency as both the Supreme Court and the Delhi high court need to consider a certified copy of the IB report, along with other evidence, to examine the writ petitions before them.

Chaturvedi has also urgently sought a copy of the IB report as he has challenged an order by the central administrative tribunal, which says that documents filed by Chaturvedi could be classified, making him guilty of “misfeasance, if not misconduct.”

The CIC has held that even though the IB is exempted from sharing information under the RTI Act, under Section 24 of the Act it has to share information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations. It said that there was no basis for the IB’s objection to sharing the report with Chaturvedi. “The IB […] has obstructed the furnishing of information,” said Acharyulu.

Observing that according to the IB report the Haryana state government had foisted false cases upon Chaturvedi and violated his human rights, the Commission said, “Right to information is a human right, which (the) applicant is trying to use to fight the violation of his other human rights, including (the) right to serve the government as an IFS officer […] By objecting to (the) disclosure of its IB report, the IB, the applicant alleged, has violated his human right i.e., (his) right to information.”

The CIC also pulled up the environment ministry, arguing that even if the IB had objected to the disclosure of the report, the central public information officer (CPIO) at the ministry should have “exercised his independent discretion […] in deciding whether the copy of the IB report held by them could be shared with the application.” In view of this, the CIC also directed the CPIO to explain why penal proceedings should not be initiated in the matter.

The IB’s reluctance to share the report could be ascribed to the fact that their investigation uncovered rampant corruption not only in Haryana, but also at AIIMS. Making this public would cause major embarrassment to the central government.