New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the CBI in Jammu to provide a revised reply within 15 days to an RTI applicant who had sought to know the status of his complaint seeking registration of an FIR against former deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh and others over alleged illegal construction of a bungalow near an army ammunition depot here.
Disposing of the second appeal filed by advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad, Information Commissioner Saroj Punhani said the Chief Public Information Officer (CPIO), CBI had erroneously claimed exemption from providing information in the matter.
It noted that the CPIO had during the hearing stated that the complaint is to be closed at the CBI end as the high court was already seized of the matter and that this information could not be provided earlier as the RTI application was filed within one month of the filing of the complaint which was at various stages of processing.
Therefore, the CIC directed the CPIO and Superintendent of Police, CBI Anti-Corruption Branch, Jammu to provide a revised reply to the appellant explaining the current status and the action taken on his complaint.
In his complaint filed on September 21, 2020, Ahmad had sought registration of an FIR under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and the Indian Penal Code against Singh, a senior BJP leader, his wife Mamta Singh and officials of the J&K Government who allegedly facilitated the construction of the bungalow in contravention of Defence Act read with a notification issued on August 7, 2015 at Village Ban-Panjgrain in Jammu.
Taking a considered view in the matter since the appellant was not provided with a proper reply by the CPIO at the original instance, now since the action is complete on the averred complaint, the CPIO is directed to provide a revised reply to the appellant explaining the current status and the action taken on the complaint as referred to in the RTI application, Punhani said in his order.
He said the information shall be provided free of cost to the appellant within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order under due intimation to the Commission.
The CIC issued the order after hearing the second appeal filed by Ahmed as earlier the CBI officials concerned had rejected the RTI application dated October 19, 2020 on the grounds that the requested information is exempted under Section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act, 2005 and further CBI is included in the list of Intelligence and Security Organisations specified in the Second Schedule of the RTI Act, 2005.
Under Section 8(1)(h), information that could impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders is exempted from disclosure.
Section 24(1) of the Right to Information Act exempts intelligence and security organisations specified in the Second Schedule from information disclosure, except when it is pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.
After the denial of information, the complainant filed an appeal under RTI Act before the first appellate authority which on December 15, 2020 dismissed it and upheld the order of the CPIO, CBI.
The information seeker December 17, 2020 filed the second appeal before the CIC.
He contended that since the information sought was about alleged corruption and abuse of official position by the officers in allowing illegal construction near the Army’s ammunition depot, the action of the CBI in refusing the information in corruption cases was unjustified.
The matter was heard at length through audio conference by the Information Commissioner with both advocate Ahmed and the CBI putting forward their arguments.
The bench observed that even though the information sought in the RTI application clearly pertained to allegations of corruption, Section 24 of the RTI Act was erroneously invoked by the CBI to claim exemption from providing the information.
Upon a query from the Commission, the order said, the CPIO did not deny the allegations of corruption pertinent to the matter.
He nonetheless stated that the complaint was examined by the competent authority and it was concluded that since the matter is pending before the High Court concerned, the complaint is to be closed at the end of CBI since the court was already seized of the matter.