The Central Information Commission (CIC) has paved the way for disclosure of corruption complaints against Union ministers by terming objections of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as “not correct” in response to an RTI application filed by bureaucrat Sanjiv Chaturvedi.
Chaturvedi, a 2002-batch officer of the Indian Forest Service, had in August 2017 filed an RTI application with the PMO seeking details of corruption complaints against Union ministers received from June 2014 till the date of filling of the application.
The PMO, in its response in October 2017, had said that this information was “generic and vague” and cited an earlier order of the CIC to deny this information. Against this, Chaturvedi had approached the CIC which had in its order passed on October 16, last year, observed that “the respondent (PMO) has not given correct and specific reply/information to the applicant.”
The commission had directed the Central Public Information Officer of the PMO to provide information on this within 15 days. In response to this CIC order, the PMO had responded to the applicant but cited Section 7 (9) of the RTI Act to deny the information.
The PMO said it receives a variety of complaints on different matters against Union ministers and high-level functionaries of the government of India and they may be scattered across different sections and units of the office and hence disclosure would disproportionately divert the resources.
The section says, “information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question”. Chaturvedi then filed a complaint with the CIC under section 18 of the RTI Act, for compliance with its October 16 order. In his submission to the Commission, he had said the PMO cannot deny the information under Section 7 (9) of the RTI Act. The information can only be denied under Section 8(1) of the Act, Chaturvedi had said. This complaint was then heard on April 23 and June 17.
“The Commission notes the appellants contention that in case there is disproportionate diversion of resources in compiling the information sought for, the respondent may not provide information in the form which it has been sought, however, he is not empowered to deny the same, said the order dated July 1. Hence, the reply provided by the respondent in response to the RTI application is not correct, said the order by Sudhir Bhargava, Chief Information Commissioner, thus paving the way for its disclosure. Chaturvedi had also sought to know the details of black money brought from abroad to India, which was also denied by the PMO saying a Special Investigation Team (SIT) has already been formed by the government and its investigation process is underway.
“The Commission agrees with the respondents averment that since an SIT had already been formed and its investigation process was underway, it was felt that disclosure of all the action under taken by the government at that juncture may have impeded the whole process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of the offenders,” the CIC order said.