It is imperative for the CBI to apply "judicious rationale" before applying exemption from the RTI Act in responding to petitions seeking records of graft cases probed by its anti-corruption units, the CIC has held.
The Section 24 of the RTI Act exempts security and intelligence agencies including the CBI from the ambit of the transparency law but if the applicant seeks any material in any form held by the agency pertaining to "allegations of corruption", the exemption does not apply.
The cases handled by the CBI primarily deal with the allegations of corruption and the RTI applications seeking information about them should be answered in accordance with the provisions of the transparency law but the officials of the agency commonly cite Section 24 exemptions to deny the request.
Such denials often end at the doors of the highest adjudicating authority in RTI matters -- the Central Information Commission (CIC) but by the time a decision comes, it's already three to four years from the day of filing the application, activists said.
The CIC had in a number of orders made it clear that allegations of corruption do not enjoy exemption but there is no change in the position of the officers handling the RTI requests in the CBI.
The Delhi High Court has also made it clear that allegations of corruption--be it is against the officials of the agency or records held by it about third party -- do not come under exemption given to it or agencies listed in second scheduled of the Section 24.
One such applicant had sought an information in 2017 about two corruption cases against him registered by the CBI. He was denied information citing exemption given to the agency under the Section 24.
When he approached the Commission, Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha noted that it was adequately established that allegation of corruption subsisting in the matter in connection with case.
"CPIO's (CBI officer) contention does not negate the fact that there were allegations of corruption which were investigated into. Besides, the fact that Appellant eventually served imprisonment for a period of four years further evinces the allegation of corruption," Sinha observed.
He said the aspect of larger public interest or the conclusiveness of the preliminary enquiry does not have any bearing on the applicability of the proviso to Section 24(1) of RTI Act as no such contingencies are inserted in the said provision.
Commission holds beyond any reasonable doubt that the information sought in the RTI application pertains to allegations of corruption, he said.
He said Commission finds this pressing need to highlight the paradox evident in claiming the Section 24 exemption by the anti-corruption branch of CBI.
"In other words, given the fact that the cases referred to/investigated/enquired by the anti-corruption branch of CBI invariably pertain to allegations of corruption only; CBI and the Commission cannot be oblivious to the imperativeness of applying a judicious rationale while assessing the applicability of the proviso to Section 24(1) of RTI Act in such cases pertaining to the anti-corruption branch," he said.
Sinha rejected the exclusion claimed by CPIO under Section 24 of RTI Act and directed the CBI to furnish information.