The Orissa High Court’s two-day bench of the RTI Act (out of state authority) has ruled that the Orissa government’s mandate to place the state vigilance department in the list of agencies excluded from the provisions of the Right to Information Act. Odisha has given the Odisha government four weeks to issue a new notification on Monday.
“If disclosure is the norm under the RTI Act and non-disclosure is an exception, the notification will seek to remove the provision provided by the RTI Act and therefore contravene the RTI Act,” Muralidhar and Justice RK Patnaik announced the verdict of three petitions challenging the 2016 notification.
Nearly a decade after Parliament passed the Transparency Act, in August 2016, the Odisha government withdrew the Vigilance Department from the scope of the RTI Act for the filing of RTI petitions seeking details of people facing Vigilance attacks or their personal assets. The government argues that it is difficult to provide such information as it would compromise the privacy of the case.
To be sure, in 2011, the Federal Anti-Corruption Watchdog Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) placed the Center on the second schedule of the Act in 2011, out of the purview of the Information Act. Section 24 of the Act empowers the government to notify intelligence and security agencies exempt from the provisions of the law other than a request for corruption and human rights violations.
The Orissa High Court has ruled that the state government cannot refuse to disclose information related to corruption and human rights violations. The High Court said, “Non-contact information will not be withheld on any sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the Department of Vigilance.”
The RTI activists, led by Pradeep Pradhan, argued in the High Court that the state government can only exempt “security and intelligence departments” and that the State Vigilance Department, which deals primarily with corruption cases, does not fall into this category.
Prior to issuing the 2016 notification, the Odisha Department of Vigilance has rejected many requests for information. In 2014, when a person was asked about the department’s annual cost to collect information on corruption, it was stated that “disclosure hints at suspects engaged in illegal activities and their performance.”
Or when a person asks the Vigilance Directorate to show corruption case files relating to former state police chiefs after their investigation has been terminated, the request was rejected for “endangering the life of the investigating officer.”