NEW DELHI: In a major setback to RTI, the Central Information Commission on Tuesday ruled that when it comes to white-collar crimes such as tax evasion, a private citizen cannot seek access to official records even after the investigating officer in the given case had submitted his report to the competent authority.
This is a departure from the RTI norm that public authorities are obliged to disclose information related to any criminal case once the investigation is completed.
Dismissing appeals filed by controversial stock brokers Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra, information commissioner A N Tiwari held that the general requirement of throwing open a case once the investigation is over does not apply to the information they sought on the income tax raids on their premises in 2001 in the wake of the Tehelka arms deal sting.
Reason: Given the nature of income tax evasion cases, the actions of the department, CIC said, are "not so well-defined and are often running to and fro till the final picture emerges and a final decision is taken about prosecuting or not prosecuting a given person who may have been investigated against."
Thus, CIC rejected the plea of Sharma and Mehra that, since the investigating officer completed his probe and submitted his report, they were entitled to know the exact basis on which they had been raided. Their appeals pointed out that Section 8(1) (h) of the RTI Act exempted from disclosure only such information that would "impede the process of investigation," which meant that any cases would fall within the purview of RTI once its investigation was completed.
Restricting the scope of RTI, CIC said that "investigation into tax evasion can be said to be over or compete only after the final adjudication about the tax liability had had made after the matter has gone through all the stages of appeals and revisions as well as a final decision about prosecuting or not prosecuting that person has been taken by an appropriate competent authority."
The IT department was, therefore, right in saying that "it would be a misnomer to hold that in matters such as this, the moment the investigating officer submits his report to the competent authority (it) spells the end of investigation."
CIC upheld the IT department's claim that the disclosure of information on the tax raids on the two brokers was exempt also because of Section 8(1)(g) "since it has the potentiality to compromise the sources of information for law enforcement action as well as put at risk those who come forward to become informants of the public authority."
It is quite unbelievable coz Sec8(1)(h) clearly mentions that any information which can impede or influence ongoing investigation can only be kept till final disposal i.e.. judgement day of trial or departmental inquiry. Once its complete and punishments or action taken on accused is decided there is no point in keepin the information .
In case of white coller crimes, like the one CIC mentioned regarding tax evasion cases:
The investigation is not end of the matter.
The investigation only results in the framing of charges and giving a notice to the person. The person replies to the notice and then order is passed. A person arrived by the order can appeal against the order at various fora. Once order is confirmed in department favour then prosecution can be luanched if Mens Rea is found.
Section 8(h) which states
(h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension orprosecution of offenders;
Investigation is only one part the other is prosecution of offenders