Govt skirts RTI plea for details of meeting on transfer of ex-CBI chief Alok Verma

“The authorship of sought information which includes three high-level dignitaries does not vest in the DoPT. Thus, the copies of documents can’t be provided by the CPIO,” the govt said in its reply

NH
NH

Ashutosh Sharma

In another blow to transparency, the government has refused to share the minutes of the meeting of the high-powered Selection Committee, headed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that had decided to transfer out the erstwhile CBI Director Alok Verma on January 10.

The meeting had allegedly decided to authorise the central government to appoint the interim director of CBI, till the appointment of a regular director.

In his RTI application dated January 11, 2019, Paras Nath Singh had sought the following information from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT):

  • Certified copies of minutes of the meeting.
  • Certified copy of the recommendations made by the high-powered committee in the meeting
  • Certified copy of the decision taken by the high-powered committee in the meeting
  • Certified copy of the note of dissent submitted by Mallikarjun Kharge in the matter
  • Certified copy of the Cabinet Secretariat’s ID Note No. 05/01/2019-CS(A) dated January 10, 2019

However, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO)-cum-Under Secretary in the DoPT, in its response, stated that “the authorship of the sought information which includes three high-level dignitaries does not vest in the DoPT. Thus, the copies of documents sought can not be provided by the CPIO.”

However, according to the applicant, the CPIO while refusing to share the information, did not cite any exemption clauses provided in the RTI Act, 2005. “The reason to deny the information as cited by the CPIO — that the authorship of the sought information which includes three high-level dignitaries does not vest in the DoPT — does not find any mentioned in the RTI Act as a reason for refusing the information.”

“On several occasions, the Central Information Commission, the apex body to adjudicate appeals and complainants under the RTI Act, has held that information sought under the RTI Act can only be withheld under Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act, 2005. And the CPIO cannot add any other reasons to deny the information sought,” said Paras.

Earlier, in January, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge had also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to bring in the public domain key documents related to sacked CBI chief Alok Verma, including the Central Vigilance Commission report and the details of the Selection Committee meeting on January 10 that led to the controversial ouster.

Kharge had represented the Opposition in the three-member Selection Committee, in which the votes of PM Modi and Justice AK Sikri decided Alok Verma's removal as Director of the CBI or Central Bureau of Investigation. He had expressed his dissent with the decision to sack Alok Verma as CBI director and terming the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as the CBI's interim director "illegal".

On February 5, Attorney General KK Venugopal had filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court against activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan for his recent tweets on the appointment of former interim chief of CBI M Nageswara Rao.

The contempt petition had refereed to a tweet put out by Bhushan, wherein he had alleged that the government appeared to have misled the apex court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the meeting of the high-powered Selection Committee.

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