The Orissa High Court on Monday issued a declaratory writ observing that the Odisha government cannot deny information about the entire Vigilance Department under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Vigilance Department, the anti-corruption wing of the government, functions under the General Administration Department.
Adjudicating over at least three PILs, challenging a 2016 government notification that kept the Vigilance Department outside the purview of RTI, a Division Bench observed that a blanket exemption of the entire anti-corruption wing from the purview of the RTI Act would run counter to the provisions made in the Act.
The Division Bench headed by Chief Justice S Muralidhar observed that information about allegations of corruption and Human Rights violations that do not touch upon sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the department, cannot be denied to RTI applicants.
The High Court directed the state government to issue a clarificatory notification to this effect within four weeks.
In the August 2016 notification, the state government had stated that nothing contained in the RTI Act shall apply to the General Administration (Vigilance) Department of the government of Odisha and its organisation. Since then it was not entertaining applications filed under the RTI Act on grounds that it was handling very very sensitive matters and most of the activities of the department were confidential, similar to that of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
In the Court also, the state government argued that the states like Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, and Sikkim have exempted their Vigilance Department from the purview of the RTI Act. The essential task of the department is stated to be the collection of secret intelligence and making of secret and discreet inquiries on the corrupt practices adopted by the public servants, the government argued.
It also pointed out that if the vigilance department comes under the purview of the RTI Act, it would go against the interests of security and public interest.
After hearing both petitioners and the government counsel, the High Court observed If under the RTI Act disclosure is the norm and non-disclosure, the exception; then the impugned notification seeks to take away what is provided by the Act and is, therefore, ultra vires, the Division Bench said disposing of the PILs.
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