CIC upholds investor-interest paramount under RTI Act

MUMBAI: Public interest outweighs all other interests in allowing access to information under the two-year old Right To Information (RTI) Act. The Central Information Commissioner (CIC), while dealing with an appeal for information related to a 2006 Sebi order that had suspended brokerage firm Indiabulls from trading, was keen that the matter be examined in the context of an RTI section that provides access to information if there is public interest in the disclosure.

The appeal was filed before the commission after the information officer and the First Appellate Authority of Sebi declined to part with the information related to the Sebi order on Indiabulls.

In an order on September 25, CIC directed the Appellate Authority to hear the third party in the matter (Indiabulls ) and examine the appeal in the context of Section 8(2) of the RTI Act. Although there are scores of exemptions listed under the RTI Act where information can be accessed, this section stipulates that exemptions can be ignored, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protect interests. Among several exemptions listed under the RTI Act are disclosure of trade or commercial secrets and information that is harmful to investigations being carried out by a government agency. The commission is also keen to examine the possibility of revealing information on those matters on which investigation is complete.

The petitioner, in this case former IPS officer Y P Singh, pointed out that access to relevant files were denied on the premise that Sebi’s investigation on Indiabulls is not yet complete. To this the appellant told the CIC that Sebi is eager to protect information about the reputation and the conduct of the company and its own officers with scant concern for investors who risk their hard-earned money with entities such as Indiabulls. The appellant said it is their interest which should be paramount to Sebi, and that investors’ interests are best served through complete transparency.

One of the grounds on which the appellant sought the information is — Sebi had issued an interim order of suspension after detailed inquiry was done. Yet the suspension was kept in abeyance within 24 hours of issuing the same. Hence, there is a prima facie reason to suspect misuse of statutory powers by Sebi officers. This makes them liable to be investigated by CBI, and therefore, it is natural for them to “carve out a pretext for not to part with the information”.

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