CBI got RTI exemption without wanting it?
At a time when it's reeling under allegations of scams and scandals, official documents show that the government gave the CBI more immunity from the RTI Act than what the agency had originally sought. Nagendar Sharma & Aloke Tikku report. How it was kept outdelhi Updated: Oct 20, 2011 02:05 IST
At a time when it's reeling under allegations of scams and scandals, official documents show that the government gave the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) more immunity from the Right to Information (RTI) Act than what the agency had originally sought.
The issue of how much immunity the CBI should get was bounced between several government departments, committees and officials that questioned the agency's demand of partial immunity, all of which ended up with it being kept completely outside RTI.
Legal opinion was repeatedly sought by the government for the right advice and the right request from the CBI. This has been revealed in a set of confidential documents, ironically released through RTI to activist Subhash Agarwal.
A CBI official conceded that the agency sensed the government wanted to give them a blanket exemption and played along. Asked to interpret the series of events that ended with CBI out of RTI, a senior government official said: “It isn't unusual to seek clarifications till everyone comes to the same point.”
The CBI's original demand around January 2011 was for exemption of intelligence collection, internal analysis of evidence and its sources from RTI.
But the department of personnel that implements RTI found the request “vague” and asked for a fresh proposal.
In mid-February, the CBI gave its fresh proposal. This time, it wanted exemption from the RTI Act in all matters but was willing to release information relating to “administration, personnel, accounts/finance, budget and training.”
The department for personnel and training (DoPT) first sought the law ministry's opinion on the CBI partial exemption request.
The then Solicitor General Gopal Subarmanium stated: “CBI officers need to be protected from dangers… the request for partial exemption is justified.”This opinion was, however, rejected by the committee of secretaries, saying "it was not practical… and legally advisable".
The matter was sent back to the law ministry with a specific request to seek the opinion of the Attorney General, GE Vahanvati. He said: “…the CBI does intelligence work which is directly related to security agencies….therefore it is legally feasible to put it in the list of organisations exempt from the RTI,” he said.
Disagreeing with Subramanium, Vahanvati stated :”I do not agree that there should be any qualification with regard to the exemption….”
Moily endorsed the AG's opinion, and soon after the secretaries panel also gave its nod to keep the CBI, NIA and the NATGRID out of RTI.
On June 8, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who holds the cabinet charge of DoPT, put his seal of approval on the decision.