NEW DELHI: In an order of far reaching Public importance, a Bench of Central Information Commission, New Delhi headed by Saroj Punhani, Information Commissioner while disposing of the Second Appeal filed by Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed has directed the Chief Public Information Officer (CPIO), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)/ 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 seeking registration of FIR under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and IPC against Dr. Nirmal Singh, the then Deputy Chief Minister J&K, his wife Mamta Singh and the Officers/Officials of J&K Government who facilitated the illegal/unauthorized construction of a Palatial Bunglow of Dr. Nirmal Singh in contravention of Works of Defence Act read with Notification No.2772/DCJ/LHS/GN-BAN/ARMY/01/2015-968/13 dated August 7, 2015 at Village Ban/ Panjgrain, Tehsil Nagrota District Jammu.
The CIC further directed that the information shall be provided to Advocate S.S. Ahmed free of cost within 15 days from the date of the receipt of the order under due intimation to the CIC.
The aforesaid significant order has been passed by the CIC after hearing the Second Appeal filed by Advocate S.S. Ahmed as earlier the CPIO, CBI i.e. Superintendent of Police, Anti Corruption Branch, Jammu had rejected the RTI application dated October 19, 2020 on the ground that the requested information falls 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 and for this the requested information was declined by the CPIO, CBI.
Against the said denial of information, Advocate S.S. Ahmed filed First Appeal under RTI Act, 2005 before the First Appellate Authority i.e. Vineet Vinayak, IPS, Head of Zone, CBI, Chandigarh Zone who vide his order dated December 15, 2020 dismissed the First Appeal and upheld the order of the CPIO, CBI.
The complainant/information seeker on December 17, 2020 filed a Second Appeal before the Central Information Commission, New Delhi challenging the validity of the orders declining information passed by the CPIO, CBI as well as the order passed by First Appellate Authority i.e. Joint Director/Head of Zone, CBI, Chandigarh on the grounds that since the information sought for was pertaining to corruption/abuse of official position by the officers in allowing illegal construction Near Ammunition Depot and even the officers of the JDA kept criminal silence and allowed massive structure to come up in utter disregard to laws of the land and 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, Central Information Commission Saroj Punhani and Advocate S.S. Ahmed vehemently argued that information sought for pertains to the complaint filed by him against persons holding high political positions in the erstwhile State of J&K for raising an illegal construction of a Palatial House at Village Ban (Nagrota) without seeking any permission from the authorities and despite several complaints, no FIR has been lodged against the said persons and the construction was allowed to be carried out.
Advocate Ahmed further submitted that since there was no headway into the complaint so he filed the RTI application before CPIO, CBI to know the action initiated on it but the said request was rejected on untenable grounds even as the subject matter of the RTI application clearly pertained to allegations of corruption.
On the other hand, Dr. Vidyut Vikas, SP and CPIO, CBI present through Audio Conference vehemently argued that complaint was filed on September 21, 2020 and within one month the appellant (Advocate S.S. Ahmed) has sought for the information under RTI Act regarding the action taken by the CBI.
He (CPIO) further submitted that the information was denied to the appellant because if the agency were to reveal the steps that it was going to take to investigate the matter in terms of searching of premises of the individuals or lodging a FIR etc. the sanctity of the investigation would get compromised and if it so happens that the allegations turn out to be baseless then revealing the information pre-maturely may lead to media trial and speculations which could disturb the morale of the concerned officials.
The CPIO further more emphasized that these are the factors why the Parliament has envisaged certain exemptions to the CBI among other similarly placed organizations.
At this stage, Saroj Punhani, the Information Commissioner put a query to the CPIO, CBI and he did not deny the allegations of corruption pertinent in 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 concerned High Court, the complaint is to be closed at the end of CBI since the court was already ceased of the matter.
The CPIO lastly added that the appellant could not have been informed about this outcome at that time because the instant RTI application was filed within a month of filing the complaint and so at the time, the same was at various stages of processing.
Upon this, Advocate S.S. Ahmed urged that the CPIO, CBI should provide to him in writing that his complaint has been closed for the reasons as disclosed during the course of Audio Conference.
After considering the submissions of both the sides, Saroj Punhani, Information Commissioner, CIC observed that 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 and the CPIO additionally invoked Section 8 (1) (h) of RTI Act to deny the information which stood negated in light of the invocation of Section 24 of the RTI Act and in other words, the CPIO, CBI cannot claim the exemption of Section 24 and that of the exemptions laid down under Section 8 of the RTI Act in conjunction.
With these observations, Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission-Saroj Punhani directed that 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 (Advocate S.S. Ahmed) explaining the current status and the action taken on the complaint as referred to in the RTI application.
The said 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.