In a major relief to whistleblower IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi, the Delhi High Court has upheld the order of the Central Information Commission directing the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests to share with him a copy of the IB report on his harassment and implication in various cases for pointing out corrupt practices during his tenure as forest officer in Haryana.
Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva junked the stand taken by the Centre that the IB report is exempt from being made public, since the same is covered by proviso to Section 24 (1).
While Section 24 of the RTI Act exempts intelligence and security organisations from the purview of the transparency law, a proviso (exception) to the Section states that this exemption is not extended to material held by or under the control of such organisations that pertain to allegations of human rights violations or corruption.
"Section 24 (1) inter alia make the Act inapplicable to intelligence and security organizations, established by the Central government, specified in the Second Schedule and further excludes any information furnished by such organisations to the Central Government from being liable to be disclosed.
"However, an exception is carved out to the exclusion clause with respect to information covered by the proviso. The proviso stipulates that if the information pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations, it shall not be excluded under this sub-section," the high court noted.
The court was of the view that the exception carved out by the proviso to the exclusion clause is only with regard to the information and not with regard to the intelligence and security organisations.
The events leading up to the high court order started when 2002 cadre IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi exposed corruption in multi-crore plantation scam in Jhajjar and Hisar districts, corruption in construction of a herbal park at private land with government money, illicit felling and poaching in Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary, corruption in granting licence to plywood units etc.
The officer was harassed through suspension, major penalty, departmental charge sheet, police and vigilance cases and 12 transfers in just five years.
In October 2012, he applied for change of cadre from Haryana to Uttarakhand on the ground of major hardships and threat to life.
To assess the threat to life of the respondent, the then Secretary, MoEF, sought a report from the IB in August 2014.
The IB confirmed hardships and threat to his life and in 2015, his cadre was changed and he was appointed CVC, AIIMS.
Embroiled in several false cases by then, on December 5, 2015, Chaturvedi sought all files, documents etc., pertaining to his interstate cadre transfer from Haryana to Uttarakhand. He had also sought information regarding his interstate cadre deputation to the Delhi government.
The MoEF supplied him the information on January 7, 2016.
Since the file notings/ correspondences included a mention of an IB report about him, Chaturvedi made an RTI application for a copy of the same on January 18, 2016.
The MoEF declined his request, forcing him to move the CIC, where Central Information Commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu on April 21, 2016, held that the IB report pertained to allegations of human rights violation and harassment of Chaturvedi and is liable to be supplied to him.
The CIC had also found that the IFS officer was put to extreme hardship by corrupt political rulers and corrupt public servants in retaliation of his unstinted implementation of rule of law and the gist of IB report, as furnished by IB in response to the RTIrequest of appellant, shows that its disclosure could cause no harm to core activity of security or intelligence of the IB.
The IB report opined that "there appears to be truth in the contention of Sanjiv Chaturvedi regarding alleged harassmentmeted out to him by the Haryana Government. His request for change of cadre from Haryana to Uttarakhand merits consideration”.
Chaturvedi had contended that the gist of the report clearly evidences that the case involves issue of corruption and human rights violation and, hence, is covered by the exceptions created by the proviso to Section 24 of the RTI Act.
The Centre moved the high court against the CIC order. It was stayed in the interim.
However, on August 23, the high court held, "The IB report is information as per Section 2(f) held by MoEF and the information pertains to allegation of corruption and human rights violation. Clearly, the information sought by the respondent falls in the category of being exempt from the exclusion clause and is liable to be supplied."