RTI meets Swiss banking

Transparency vs secrecy: will we ever get the info?


Samir Sachdeva | October 18, 2010

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to disclose to the RTI applicant, V R Chandran, an estimate of black money deposited by Indians in Swiss banks.

Also see: Swiss banks don't want to hide, so we don't want to seek!

The ED had declined the information under section 24(1) of the RTI Act which exempts the intelligence and security organisations specified in the Second Schedule, from the preview of the transparency law. The same clause highlights that information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded under this sub-section.

The bench comprising Wajahat Habibullah (the then CIC) and the information commissioners - A N Tiwari (current CIC), Shailesh Gandhi and M L Sharma ruled on September 28 that the matter being investigated by ED came within the definition of "allegations of corruption" and therefore needs to be disclosed to the applicant. CIC ordered that the total sum of the money investigated by ED in the case be disclosed to the applicant but exempted ED from disclosing names of parties and the nature of investigation.

The applicant in this case filed the RTI application on November 13, 2008. The first appeal in the matter was filed on January 7, 2009 and rejected on February 18, 2009 by the appellate authority. The second appeal was filed on February 23, 2009 and heard by single bench of information commissioner A N Tiwari on June 11, 2009. The matter was postponed to July 15, 2009 and thereafter transferred to a full bench. The commission also asked for feedback of the ministries of finance and law & justice on the matter. The matter was posted for October 15, 2009 but heard only on March 10, 2010 by the full bench. The full bench decision came on September 28, 2010 with a limited relief only. Now the decision of the CIC, most likely will be challenged in the high court followed by the supreme court (by either party) which will further delay the disclosure of the information.

Also when CIC has ruled that the amount of money being investigated needs to be disclosed as it is a corruption related matter then the exemption given on names of parties and nature of investigation was uncalled for. CIC has also passed an order which may let the citizens know a figure which is already circulating the media. The act of CIC to seek opinion from the ministry of law and justice is a clear conflict of interest as the ED may also have been seeking legal opinion from the same ministry. If CIC would have based their decision on any such advice it would have passed an order on a government officer which would have been in parallel receiving the advice of the legal department. Seeking opinion from the ministry of finance was equally surprising as ED is under the administrative control of the finance ministry. This would have meant CIC asking the public authority to advice on an appeal against it. By this action alone the CIC was proved that it was not true to disclosure of information. All these efforts appear to delay the decision and ensure that the information is not disclosed.

In past the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) has shared some information with the Indian government on names of individuals having accounts with it. But it is said that the UBS’s information was quietly buried as it named some politicians. While countries like the US have put pressure on Swiss banks by threatening sanctions on Swiss economy, India is still trying to hide the information whether on amount of money or names of parties. It looks as if no one in India wants to disclose the information least bring the money back.



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