Central Information Commission slams CBI's proposed exemption from RTI

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New Delhi:  The Central Information Commission (CIC) today hit out at the government for moving to exempt the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from the Right to Information (RTI) Act, saying the move is "without sanction of the law".

Taking strong exception to the move, the CIC, the body that administers the RTI, ruled that the Cabinet's notification excluding the premier investigation agency from the Act was "not in consonance with the letter or spirit of the RTI Act".

The criticism came just a couple of weeks after the Centre, in a notification last month, exempted the CBI along with the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) from the RTI Act.

The CBI's argument for the relief was that it handles "the investigations of several politically-sensitive cases which have inter-state and international ramifications."

The rationale is that the CBI's inquiries should remain off-limits to the public because the agency handles many cases related to national security, explained V Narayanswamy, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office.

But the CIC trashed the argument contending that there was no claim in CBI's mandate of being involved in intelligence-gathering or being a security organisation.

In fact, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him for a rethink on the matter.

The move by the government to take CBI out of the purview of the RTI has come under criticism from several quarters. Activists have filed petitions in the Madras and Delhi High courts against the move. (Read: Should RTI cover CBI? Madras High Court steps in)

"I am enraged...I will take the matter up with the chairperson of the UPA," said Aruna Roy, member of the National Advisory Council, an advisory body headed by Sonia Gandhi which influences government policy.

The Right to Information Act is seen as a landmark achievement of the UPA - on two earlier occasions, Mrs Gandhi opposed moves that would have diluted the Act - moves that the Prime Minister had endorsed. In those cases, Mrs Gandhi's will had prevailed. (Read: Will Sonia Gandhi review CBI's exemption from RTI?)

The proposed exemption for the CBI comes at a time when the government is under fire for not being transparent enough. Activists are enraged, for example, with the government's version of the Lokpal Bill, meant to tackle corruption among politicians and bureaucrats.

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