The CIC has issued a show cause notice to a home ministry official for citing wrong reasons to withhold information related to permission for phone tapping in a case of alleged corruption. The permission was granted by then home secretary to the CBI. The information being sought related to 2016. S Durga Prasad, the accused in the CBI case, had approached the union home ministry seeking a copy of the proposal sent by the Superintendent of Police Special Unit, CBI, Chennai, requesting permission from the home secretary for intercepting the mobile numbers 944****506 and 944****494. He also sought to know the orders passed by the home ministry along with file notings. The ministry cited three exemption clauses of the RTI Act to deny information to the applicant-- prejudicially affecting national security, personal safety and adversely affecting ongoing investigation and prosecution of offenders. "The appellant requested the Commission to direct the CPIO (central public information officer) to provide the information sought for by him excluding the names and identities of the officials who had passed the order for intercepting the mobiles and the names of the officials who were involved in this issue," Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava noted. Durga Prasad said during the hearing that the clause of national security would not hold to deny information as he was booked in a corruption case. He also said he was not seeking information on names of officials involved in the phone tapping permission process hence the argument of endangering personal safety will also not apply. Moreover, since the investigation was already complete, the clause of ongoing investigation was wrongly applied. The ministry said phone tapping is done under classified legal regime. The documents and information related to lawful interception are classified as Top Secret and cannot be disclosed as it is exempt from disclosure under Sections 8 (1)(a)(national security), 8(1)(g) (safety) and 8 (1)(h) (prosecution) of the RTI Act. The official representing the ministry also said the information related to 2016.
Records related to the information sought by the appellant were not accessible as had been weeded out according to the Record Retention Schedule. The Commission said the ministry could not justify that the applicant's case related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, etc. "In view of this, it cannot be said that the information sought could be classified under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act," Bhargava said. He said the ministry also could not establish how the disclosure of the information sought would impede the prosecution of offenders. "Thus, the CPIO wrongly invoked exemption Sections 8(1) (a), 8(1)(g) and 8 (1)(h) of the RTI Act. The Commission, therefore, directs the Registry of this Bench to issue a Show Cause Notice to the CPIO, MHA for explaining as to why action under Section 20(1) of the RTI Act should not be initiated against him," he said. The Commissioner said since the records have been weeded out they cannot be provided now.
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