ByÂ Alam Bains:
The Right to Information Act, 2005 was seen as a potent weapon in the hands of the citizens which would help fight corruption in the society. There are many cases where the RTI has played a vital role in exposing corruption including the Adarsh Housing Scam and the Commonwealth Games Scam. At a time when the country is in a fix over the Lokpal Bill and the citizens have risen united for greater transparency, the Union Cabinet has gone on to exempt the Central Bureau of Investigation, country’s premier investigative agency, from providing information under the RTI Act, 2005. The decision has gone largely unnoticed amongst the mudslinging surrounding the Lokpal Bill. The decision was made after the Committee of Secretaries (CoS) headed by Cabinet Secretary K.M Chandrashekhar submitted its recommendations and gave its green signal to CBI. Earlier on, the CoS had given approval to keep National Investigative Agency and National Intelligence Grid out of RTI’s purview.
Section 24 of the RTI Act gives exemption to “intelligence and security organisations” but CBI is an investigative authority, then why the exemption? CBI spokesperson Dharini Mishra said the agency wanted to be exempt from RTI because of the sensitiveness of the cases it is handling and the pressure from a large number of requests for information. “The CBI director is all for transparency, but the agency wants to be exempted because of the cases that it is handling and filing of the large number of RTI applications about cases, which have national and international ramifications,” Mishra said.
As first reported by The Indian Express, Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati had opined that if the CBI’s request was accepted, other government departments and investigative agencies could seek a similar exemption. By exempting the CBI, the government has paved way for other agencies to make similar demands. This would water down RTI itself. This decision itself comes at a moment when the CBI is handling high profile and politically sensitive cases like the 2G scam, the Commonwealth Games Scam and the Adarsh Housing scam.
The question is why defeat the purpose of Right To information Act by slowly and steadily removing agencies from its ambit? There are already 22 agencies which have been exempted from providing information under the RTI Act. The civil society members are saying that government has “ulterior motives” behind the move. This decision will have long term consequences for transparency and hence, the government must explain why CBI was exempted from the purview of RTI Act.