Why did the Centre strip Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) of powers to arrest Delhi Police officers for bribery? The Modi government won’t tell.
The Home Ministry has refused to make public a bunch of documents under the Right to Information (RTI) Act that would have revealed why the government took the decision and the consultation process that led to the controversial notification.
The Centre had tried to clip the ACB’s wings on 23 July last year when it made central government employees off-limits for the Capital’s anti-corruption sleuths.
It was on the basis of this order that Delhi Police went ahead to file an abduction case against ACB officers who arrested its head constable on a charge of receiving a Rs 20,000 bribe.
The Home Ministry initially ignored a RTI request by HT for the documents that led to the notification. The Centre responded to a second application but refused to provide the information.
“It is intimated that the Anti-Corruption Branch of Delhi has filed an FIR in this matter and in pursuance thereof, the matter is sub-judice,” the Home Ministry’s under-secretary Hemlata Hotchandani said.
The law does not exempt information relating to a case pending before a court. So Hotchandani cited Section 8(l)(h) of the RTI Act that exempts information that would impede any investigation, apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
Rakesh Singh, the ministry’s joint secretary (Union Territory) too summarily rejected an appeal filed against ‘her decision’.
A Delhi government official said they weren’t surprised at the ministry’s reluctance to come clean.
“It is a flawed decision in the first place,” the official said, pointing that the powers of a police officer flow from the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure. “An executive directive such as this cannot supercede the law,” he explained.
Off-the-record, home ministry officials have attributed the notification to a case registered against former union ministers by the ACB in February last year, claiming that Delhi unit had overstepped its limit.
But this is not what the Centre told the Supreme Court in another case.
In its judgment striking down the single directive which required the CBI to get permission to probe joint secretary-level officers, the court said it asked if a state or union territory’s anti-corruption team could probe a central government employee of the JS-rank posted in its jurisdiction.
“Yes, both state (and UT’s) police and CBI have jurisdiction under the Prevention of Corruption Act over such officers,” the judgment said, quoting the Centre’s additional solicitor general.
In the Delhi High Court, the Centre is arguing the reverse.