In a controversial move, a top government panel has decided to keep three central agencies — the CBI, NIA and the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) — beyond the purview of the right to information law.
A five-member committee of secretaries, headed by the Cabinet Secretary, has asked the government to classify the three as security organizations, which will enable them to block all information requests under the RTI Act.
The panel that had rejected the CBI plea for exemption in 2008, reversed its decision after taking legal opinion from the government’s top two law officers.
Hindustan Times had first reported on March 15 about solicitor general Gopal Subramanium’s opinion that the CBI should be included in the list of 22 intelligence and security organisations, which are out of RTI purview.
He had recommended that “information related to administrative and personnel matters of the CBI could be provided...”
Attorney General GE Vahanvati endorsed his colleague’s opinion but went a step further and recommended a blanket exemption for the CBI.
The committee of secretaries accepted Vahanvati’s view in its meeting on Friday. It has now recommended the PMO to place the matter before the Cabinet for its approval.
The NIA was set up in 2008 after the 26/11 Mumabi terror attacks to handle terrorism-related cases. Natgrid, on the other hand, provides security agencies real-time access into nearly 20 categories of databases — from airline ticketing to phone records.
Handling cases that may have implications for national security, however, has been a small part of the CBI’s organisational profile. It is the only agency at the Centre that can investigate corruption or sensational crimes such as the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, in which a Delhi police officer’s son was held guilty for raping and killing her.
An application under RTI revealed that the CBI believed life imprisonment — not death — was “proportionate” to the crime. Her family, however, had wanted the CBI to challenge the SC verdict.
Once the government issues the notification classifying these organisations under the second schedule of the law, it will become more difficult to get information out of the agency.