Justify denial of information; don't merely cite exemption clause: CIC to CBI

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New Delhi, Nov 9 (PTI) The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the CBI to provide a justification for denial of information on the ground that the disclosure might impede an ongoing investigation or the prosecution of an accused and not merely cite the relevant clause in its RTI response.

Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to provide a cogent explanation while citing the exemption clause -- section 8(1)(h) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act -- on how a disclosure of information would adversely affect an investigation or prosecution.

Section 8(1)(h) allows a public authority to withhold information, the disclosure of which would impede the process of an investigation or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

The Delhi High Court, in the Bhagat Singh case, had clearly held that merely citing the exemption clause is not enough and a public authority must justify how a disclosure of information would attract the section as disclosure was the rule while withholding information was an exception.

Sarna was hearing the case of an RTI applicant, who had sought to know the status of a preliminary enquiry by the CBI in the MSME Development Institute in Chennai.

The CBI, in a number of cases, has denied the information by merely citing the section, without giving any justification how a disclosure of the information would impede its investigation or prosecution.

'The Commission observes upon a perusal of the facts on record that the CPIO had merely invoked Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act without providing any justification as to what inquiry was pending as on the date of their reply or as to how the disclosure of the information would have impeded the process of the inquiry or apprehension or prosecution of offenders,' Sarna noted.

She agreed with the petitioner, S Harish Kumar, that the disclosure of the status and outcome of the case as available at the relevant time would not have impeded the process of the averred inquiry by any measure.

'Pertinently so, the representative of the CPIO also failed to provide any substantial submissions regarding the applicability of Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act during the hearing,' Sarna said.

She directed the CBI CPIO to provide a revised reply to Kumar, incorporating a 'cogent explanation' justifying the applicability of section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act with respect to the information sought in the application.

'In addition to this, the CPIO is directed to provide the available information regarding the status and outcome of the case as referred to in the RTI application...,' Sarna said. PTI ABS RC