New Delhi, June 7
In a major decision to promote transparency in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered disclosure of preliminary enquiries into corruption complaints which have been closed by the probe agency without registering any FIRs during the period 2014-18.
The Commission, while delivering the order, agreed with the views of an RTI applicant that the CBI, which is otherwise exempted from the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, does not have immunity from disclosing records related to “allegations” of corruption and human rights violation held by it.
The preliminary enquiries, being “records” held by the agency carrying “allegations” of corruption, cannot be denied under the exemption from the RTI Act enjoyed by the agency and should be judged in conformity to its provisions, the applicant said.
“...Commission directs the CPIO to provide the preliminary enquiry number, summary of allegations, date of registration and date of closure of the preliminary enquiries pertaining to allegations of corruption which have been closed by the agency without registering regular cases between 2014-2018,” Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha said.
The case pertained to the RTI application filed by correspondent Abhishek Shukla on May 2, 2018, seeking from the CBI the copies of all the PEs having allegations of corruption which have been closed by the agency without registering an FIR during the period 2014-18, along with the details about the date of registration, date of closure and reasons behind the closure.
A Preliminary Enquiry (PE) is the first step initiated by the CBI to assess criminality in prima facie allegations levelled by a complainant. If the allegations appear to be serious enough, the agency proceeds with an FIR or else PE is closed.
The PE remains an internal document as no closure reports are filed in the court thereby not allowing any public scrutiny of reasons behind not initiating full-scale investigation with an FIR in a particular complaint or input.
In case of the FIRs, the CBI has to file a final report in the form of charge sheet or a closure report in a special court after the conclusion of the probe leaving it to the court whether to accept or reject the probe document.
After a Supreme Court order, all FIRs are placed in the public domain within 24 hours but the contents of PEs and their findings are not disclosed by the agency.
When the details of the PEs were sought under the RTI Act, the CBI rejected the application within seven days on two grounds — Section 24(1) for its exemption from the RTI Act and Section 8(1)(g) related to the protection of information the disclosure of which can affect life and physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement.
While Section 24(1) completely exempts the CBI and other security and intelligence agencies from the RTI Act but a proviso says this exemption will not apply to the information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.
“The appellant has highlighted the issue of lack of transparency and probity in the domain of preliminary enquiries, as these remain distant from public scrutiny and he has sought for this information in the capacity of an ordinary citizen, without whatsoever ostensible personal interest,” Sinha said.
Asserting that the disclosure would strengthen the structure of the CBI, Sinha said there was an overriding public interest in the disclosure of this information as envisaged under Section 8(2) of the RTI Act as it concerned allegations of corruption against public servants that were inquired into by the premier investigating agency for a period of five years.
“Such disclosure will strengthen the structure of this vital law enforcement arm of the government, per contra, the opacity will only add to casting aspersions on its working,” Sinha said.
Citing his previous order in a separate case, Sinha said the cases referred to, investigated or enquired by the anti-corruption branch of the CBI invariably pertain to allegations of corruption only and the CBI and the Commission cannot be oblivious to the imperativeness of applying a judicious rationale while assessing the applicability of the proviso to Section 24(1) of the RTI Act in such cases pertaining to the anti-corruption branch.
“In the instant case also, the above paradox holds true, in as much as the appellant specifically sought information regarding preliminary enquiries made into allegations of corruption. Yet, the CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) and FAA (First Appellate Authority) failed to appreciate the same and rather denied the information in almost what seems like mechanical disposal of the RTI applications and first appeals,” he said in the present order.
He said the Commission was by and large convinced with the primary averment of the appellant that the information sought pertains to allegations of corruption.
Sinha said the appellant had sought for the information of cases pertaining to a period of five years, it was difficult to imagine how one would narrow down these many cases to pose endangerment to life and physical safety of the suspects or the concerned officer(s).
“Neither the material on record nor the disposition of the appellant during hearing suggest any perceivable threat that he can pose to the said individuals,” Sinha said and allowed inspection of preliminary enquiries in the event it is not being made available in the form requested for by the RTI applicant. PTI
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