NEW DELHI: In an apparent misinterpretation of the RTI Act, CBI has claimed before the Delhi High Court that it can only share information pertaining to allegations of corruption against its own officials and not the graft cases probed by it.
The explanation not only goes against the preamble of the Act, which says that an informed citizenry is vital to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable, but also contravenes Section 24 of RTI Act under which CBI has been included in the list of exempted organisations by the previous UPA government, which was facing serious corruption charges probed by the agency.
Recently, CBI has even started returning RTI applications citing the exemption clause despite clear orders from the CIC and its former director, A P Singh.
Section 24 says that nothing in the Act will apply to exempted organisations provided the "information" sought by an application pertaining to allegations of corruption is not excluded under it.
The definition of "information" says it is "any material in any form held by or under the control" of a public authority and, as per the definition, it may not necessarily be about the organisation from which the information was sought.
The agency, while challenging the order of Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra through a writ petition before Delhi High Court, apparently misconstrued the clause which exempts it from the RTI Act by only highlighting the portion of it which goes in its favour.
Experts are of the view that the Right to Information Act is not about records of an organisation or its employees. The Act is about any information which is "held by or under the control" of a public authority.
"A citizen can demand the information (any material in any form held by or under the control of a public authority) from CBI if it pertains to allegations of corruption. The claim that it will give information only where allegations are against its employees is a complete abuse of the law," said noted activist Venkatesh Nayak.
Former Chief Information Commissioner AN Tiwari, whose order in a case has been cited by CBI in the writ petition to buttress its argument, said that the interpretation given by the agency is completely incorrect.
"If an applicant wants information related to an allegation of corruption, whether in general or about employees of the organisation, it should be judged on the basis of the RTI Act as such information is not exempted even in the case of organisations which are otherwise exempt," Tiwari said.
The former CIC said that the RTI Act is all about accessing information which is held by or under the control of a public authority and it need not necessarily be about that organisation.
The Act is absolutely clear and the twist given by the agency is flawed and against the law, he said. Tiwari further said that CBI is like any other police organisation and should not have been included in the list of exempted organisations at all.
"Somebody should implead in the case and challenge the inclusion of CBI in the list of exempted organisations," he said.