[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Central Information Commission (CIC) on Monday dismissed an appeal filed by Pune based RTI activist Vihar Durve with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), seeking information about total legal expenditure incurred by the government for bringing fugitive economic offender, Vijay Mallya, back to the country.
Durve had sought information about consultation fee and travel expenses provided to advocates, legal consultants, senior advocates, solicitors and barristers by the government to bring Mallya back to India.
The CIC held that the information sought pertained to administrative action and legal expenses which was nowhere related to the allegation of corruption or human rights violation so as to attract the proviso to Section 24(1) Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) at CBI had initially denied the sought information to the RTI applicant by invoking Section 24(1) of the RTI Act, 2005. The CBI has been placed in the Second Schedule of the RTI Act 2005, and thus, the RTI Act is not applicable to the CBI except where specific allegations of corruption or human rights violation are involved.
In addition, during the hearing of the case before the CIC, the CBI also invoked Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act to deny the information to the applicant. The said Section reads-
8 (1) notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,
(h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
On August 28, 2019, the Commission had, accordingly, directed the CBI to send a written submission highlighting the factum as to how the information sought was exempt under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act. The RTI applicant was asked to file a counter reply on receiving the written submissions from CBI.
The CBI, in its written submission, asserted that it is an exempted organization from the applicability of the RTI Act in view the Government’s notification issued in exercise of the power vested in the Central Government under Section 24(1) of the RTI Act. Provisions of the Act are applicable only when specific allegations of corruptions and/or human rights violation have been made.
It further said that the RTI applicant’s argument that the information sought pertains to the corruption of Vijay Mallya who have duped banks to the tune of Rs. 9,000/- crores as such he may be given information, hold no ground as the two cases against Mr. Vijay Mallya i.e. RC 8 (E) 2016 SBI Consortium Banks and RC 6 (E) 2015 Kingfisher IDBI Bank are still under investigation/further investigation in the branch and the accused Mr Vijay Mallya’s extradition matter is at a crucial stage in the London High Court, UK and fixed in February 2020 as such exemption was also invoked u/s 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act as the parting information would impede the investigation of the case.
The CBI also asserted that the RTI applicant’s argument that this is a fit case of human rights violation also, since the Central Government has decided to lodge Mr Vijay Mallya at Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai and the condition of the jail is unhygienic and unsafe and for Mr Vijay Mallya, holds no ground as the Extradition Court of London was satisfied with the condition of the jail.
On the other hand, RTI applicant in his submission inter-alia submitted that the exemption sought by CPIO, CBI was wrong, incomplete, misconceived, factually wrong & misleading and afterthought.
“The CPIO, CBI had not discharged / demonstrated the burden by showing that how disclosure of information of total legal expenditure/consultation fees (in India and abroad); total travelling expenditure; names of Advocates, Legal Consultants, Senior Advocates, Solicitors, Barristers to whom legal fees/consultation fees etc were paid would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders. CPIO didn’t demonstrate reasons and had not applied his/her mind for denying information”, the RTI applicant said.
“CBI’s written submission refers to Extradition Court of London was satisfied with the condition of the jail. As per Vijay Mallya, jails in India are over-crowded with poor hygiene and are violating human rights”, RTI applicant submitted.
In a final order passed on September 23, 2019, the Information Commissioner DivyaPrakashSinha after taking note of the written submissions filed by the CBI and the RTI applicant summarily rejected the grounds of the Second Appeal as well the counter submissions of the Appellant dated September 16, 2019, as he had merely relied on conjecture and surmises to emphasize upon his ‘perception’ of how CBI should have dealt the case of Vijay Mallya.
In other words, according to the Commission, merely because the appellant is of the opinion that the swindling of money by Vijay Mallya to the tune of Rs. 9000 crores and not putting forward the factual reality of conditions of Jails before the Extradition Court of London amounts to corruption and human rights violation respectively, the proviso to Section 24(1) will not become operative.
The Commission, thus, noted:“Appellant shall note that the expression ‘’allegation of corruption’’ and ‘’violation of human rights’’ is not defined in the Act, it is thus open for the Commission to decide the veracity of allegations on both counts on a case to case basis. The allegations of corruption and human rights violation should be construed to mean verifiable allegations, in other words, a mere charge of corruption or human rights violation is not sufficient in the absence of any supporting material that proves such charge in its evidentiary value has strength”.
It went on to say“it is a well-settled proposition that every RTI Applicant who utters the word ‘corruption’ or alleges corruption or violation of human rights does not become entitled to get information from public authorities exempted u/s 24(1) of the RTI Act. The onus of substantiating the allegation of corruption and human rights violation lies on the RTI Applicant and ‘perception’ is certainly no ground to agitate right to information under the proviso to Section 24(1) of RTI Act”.