Indian Cabinet Exempts Bureau of Investigation

17 June 2011

The Indian Cabinet June 9 decided to exempt the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from the Right to Information Act, according to news reports, but official confirmation has not been forthcoming.

The exemption was requested by the CBI, arguing that its inclusion under the RTI made it difficult to share information and obtain information,” according to media reports such as one in The Times of India.

The agency mentioned in its request that it holds the investigations of several politically sensitive cases which have inter-state and international ramifications and has to provide this information to a large number of RTI requestors, according to the newspaper, which noted that there were dissenters to the decision by Cabinet secretaries.

CBI spokesperson Dharini Mishra, however, told The Times that she was not aware of the development.

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) said exempting the CBI, and several other agencies, would be a major setback to the regime of transparency. The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and National Investigation Agency (NIA) also have sought exclusion. (See previous report.)

It remains unclear if the other two agencies will also receive an exemption, which can be granted without a statutory amendment.

The exemption is granted under Section 24, according to an Indian RTI expert who further explained:

This means they have no proactive disclosure obligations. Any information relating to them or any information they give to the Government is exempt from disclosure. The only exception is in the case of allegations of corruption and human rights violations. In the case of HR violations, access may be given only with the approval of the relevant Information Commission.

NCPRI has suggested that public consultations should be held to decide about the organizations that would enjoy relief under the Act. The statement signed by activists like Aruna Roy, Prashant Bhushan and Venkatesh Nayak said, “Such a move will not only be a major setback to the regime of transparency established in the country, but also ensure that crucial state agencies remain opaque and unaccountable to the people. No public consultation has taken place around these issues despite the UPA Government promising in 2009 that the list of organizations already excluded from the RTI Act would be reviewed.”

NCPRI has argued that under Section 24 of the RTI Act, intelligence and security organizations are exempt, but that the three organizations in question are investigating authorities.

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