Probe this act of omission

Why is CBI out of RTI Act?


Danish Raza | June 28, 2011

Just when the attention of newsmen across the nation was fixed on the Lokpal issue, the government excluded the central bureau of investigation (CBI) from the purview of the right to information (RTI) act.

And how did you and I come to know about it? The agency, responding to the RTI query filed by Subhash Chandra Agrawal told him that as per a June 9 notification, it had been included in the list of agencies exempted from the purview of the transparency act.

The CBI’s argument is that since it probes sensitive cases, sharing information with public can have crucial ramifications.

CBI had sent its request for exemption from the RTI act to the Department of personnel and training (DoPT) which forwarded it to the law ministry for its opinion.

Interestingly both the Department of personnel and training (DoPT) and the law ministry did not buy the CBI’s argument.

But it appears that the government found sense in the opinion of attorney general G Vahanvati who said that the CBI was involved in safeguarding the country’s economic security and intelligence

There are many reasons why the exemption of CBI from the RTI act needs rethinking.

Section 24 of the RTI act puts intelligence and security agencies outside the purview of the act. CBI is purely an investigating agency just like police. The law makers must have given some thought while preparing the list of original 22 agencies exempted from the act and they knew that CBI did not meet the criteria to make it to that list.

Second, section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI act says that the public authority can withhold information which can affect the process of investigation or prosecution or apprehension or prosecution of offenders. But this does not translate into a blanket denial of information. A landmark judgment given in 2007 by justice S Ravindar Bhat in ‘Bhagat Singh Vs chief information commissioners and others’ put things in perspective. “The mere existence of an investigation process cannot be a ground for refusal of the information; the authority withholding information must show satisfactory reasons as to why the release of such information would hamper the investigation process. Such reasons should be germane, and the opinion of the process being hampered should be reasonable and based on some material. Sans this consideration, Section 8(1) (h) and other such provisions would become the haven for dodging demands for information,” the court ruled.
In a similar judgment, the Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled on June 24 that the public authority cannot deny information on the premise of an ongoing probe.

Third, the RTI act has provision whereby any public authority can deny information if it can endanger the life of the citizens or can affect the country relations with another nation. Also, there is a provision where the public authority is allowed to take the permission of an individual before disclosing certain information/ letter/ document pertaining him or her. This is called ‘third party’ information.

Fourth, since the enactment of the act in 2005, there has been not a single case to prove that transparency has in any manner hampered the functioning of the CBI.

Therefore, both the decision to keep CBI out of the RTI act and the way it has been done, have serious flaws.

The only factor which justifies the government’s decision is that fact that the agency is probing some of the biggest corruption cases including the 2G spectrum and CWG which involve the high and mighty. With already so much information in public domain, the government cannot afford letting us know more about the A Rajas, the Kalmadis, the Marans and their bosses.




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