IN a big blow to transparency, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has refused to share the minutes and file noting(s) of the High Powered Committee’s meeting held on January 10, 2019, which took the decision to transfer out the erstwhile CBI Director Alok Verma. In the same meeting, the decision to authorise the Central Government to appointment interim director of CBI till the appointment of regular Director was made had also been taken.
RTI applicant Paras Nath Singh on January 11, 2019 had sought the following information:
1) Certified copies of minutes of the said meeting.
2) Certified copy of the recommendations made by the High Powered Committee in the said meeting.
3) Certified copy of the decision taken by the said High Powered Committee in the said meeting held on 10.01.2019 in context of former CBI Director Shri Alok Kumar Verma.
4) Certified copy of the note of dissent submitted by Shri Mallikarjun Kharge in the matter.
5) Certified copy of the Cabinet Secretariat’s ID Note No. 05/01/2019-CS(A) dated 10.01.2019
In response, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) cum Under Secretary in the DoPT has informed on February 7, 2019 that the authorship of the sought information which includes three high-level dignitaries does not vest in the DoPT. Thus, the copies of documents sought cannot be provided by the CPIO. [See Image 1]
Pertinently, CPIO while refusing to part with the information to the RTI applicant has not cited any exemption clauses provided in the RTI Act, 2005. It may be noted that in a catena of decisions, Central Information Commission (CIC), the apex body to adjudicate appeals/complainants under the RTI Act, has held that information sought under the RTI Act can only be withheld under Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act, 2005. And the CPIO cannot add any other reasons from his/her side to deny the information sought.
The reason to deny the information as cited by the CPIO — that the authorship of the sought information which includes three high-level dignitaries does not vest in the DoPT — does not find any mentioned in the RTI Act as a reason to refuse the information.
The said HPC was consisted of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of single largest opposition party in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Justice A K Sikri (as nominee of the CJI). The HPC met on January 10, 2019 after the Supreme Court’s order on January 8, 2019 directing the HPC to meet within a week to take call on the CVC reports regarding allegations against Alok Verma.
On January 10, 2019, one of the members of the HPC, Mallikarjun Kharge had written to the Prime Minister asking him to make the report of the CVC public and also the minutes of the HPC meeting held on January 10, 2019 wherein decision to remove Alok Verma from the office of CBI Director was taken. Kharge had also accused that appointment of interim director was done without consulting the High Powered Committee.
However, the Government did not refute allegations made by Kharge that the interim director’s appointment was made without in consultation with HPC until February 6, 2019 when the Attorney General for India K K Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the appointment of interim Director had a consent of High Powered Committee.
The Supreme Court was hearing a PIL filed by the NGO Common Cause and noted RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj challenging the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim director, CBI without the approval of HPC, when AG made that submission.