Approval Information on CBI’s Corruption Enquiry against GST Officer not available under RTI, says CIC [Read Order]

CIC expressed the importance of considering the complexities inherent in corruption trials before deciding on the disclosure of documents related to prosecution sanction or previous approval
CBI - GST Officer - GST - CBI corruption enquiry - Central Information Commission - taxscan

The CIC ( Central Information Commission ) held that the information sought by the GST officer on information relating to approval granted to the CBI with respect to the corruption act provisions by the GST office is exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(h) of RTI Act, 2005.

Vinod Kumar Tiwari, Information Commissioner, added that CBI ( Central Bureau of Investigation ) is an exempted organisation under Section 24 (1) of the RTI Act (Right to Information Act) and any information shared by CBI with the Respondent is also exempted and cannot be provided to the Appellant, under RTI Act.

The appellant, presently working as GST ( Goods and Services Tax ) Superintendent, sought information regarding the approval granted to the CBI under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, for conducting investigations related to the appellant’s official functions provided by the GST office. However, the request faced opposition from the respondent, citing exemptions under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act and Section 24(1) pertaining to CBI’s status as an exempted organization.

The appellant’s counsel submitted that since the investigation was no longer pending with the concerned office, and clarification was not sought from the CBI regarding sharing the information, the exemption should not apply.

Conversely, the respondent, CPIO of Office of the Commissioner of GST, Audit II contended that disclosing such information could impede the ongoing investigation process, regardless of which department is conducting it.

The Respondent clearly stated that information/ documents/ notings/ correspondences etc. sought by the Appellant squarely falls in the ambit of Section 8(1)(h) of RTI Act. Section 8(1)(h) of RTI Act, reads as under:

“Exemption from disclosure of information (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,- information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;”

The respondent confirmed their submissions citing the observation of the Delhi High Court in the matter Union of India v CIC where it was held that the “word ‘Impede’ does not mean total obstruction and compared to the word ‘obstruction’ or ‘prevention’ the word ‘impeded’ required hindrance of a lesser degree. It is less injurious than prevention or an absolute obstacle. Contextually, in Section 8(1)(h) it will mean anything which would hamper and interfere with procedure followed in the investigation and have the effect to hold back the regress of investigation, apprehension of offenders or prosecution of offenders.”

The Commission, after considering the arguments from both sides, examined the nature of the information sought and its potential impact on the investigation. It observed that since the criminal case involving the appellant was still pending with the CBI, divulging the requested details could affect the proceedings. Consequently, the Commission upheld the exemption claimed by the respondent under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

The CIC expressed the importance of considering the complexities inherent in corruption trials before deciding on the disclosure of documents related to prosecution sanction or previous approval.

The CIC stated that a plethora of judgements of higher courts deal with the question of disclosure of documents related to prosecution sanction/previous approval. However, before deciding on the issue of disclosure of information, the complexities involved in such corruption trials and how disclosure of information may dilute the proceedings has to be understood. The High Court of Madras in a recent judgement in Gulab Singh Rana vs. CPIO, Indian Overseas Bank. Accordingly, the appeal was disposed of.

Subscribe Taxscan Premium to view the Judgment

Support our journalism by subscribing to Taxscan premium. Follow us on Telegram for quick updates