In what appears to be a bold step towards reinforcing the rule of law in the country, an individual under the scanner for a crime has been added to those myriad segments of the society who harness the Right to Information (RTI) Act for procuring justice. While we know of innumerable RTI applications filed from behind the closed doors of jails, in this case an alleged accused in the deadly 2006 Mumbai train blast case, Ehtesham Qutubuddin Siddiqui, has used RTI to procure a copy of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) report placed before the home ministry, which according to him has stated that he was falsely implicated in the serial blasts.
Siddiqui was tried in the 7/11 blast case and was convicted on 30 September 2015 by the Special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) Court. The petitioner stated that the said verdict is pending confirmation before the Bombay High Court. When he got to know that the IB has placed a report with the home ministry in 2009 wherein he is probably falsely implicated, he filed an RTI application with the central public information officer (CPIO) to procure a true copy of the IB report submitted to the home ministry.
On 21 September 2017, the CPIO rejected the application and denied the information, under Section 24(1) of the RTI Act wherein IB is excluded from the purview of the RTI Act.
Siddiqui then filed his first appeal, contending that CPIO's rejection citing Section 24(1) of the RTI Act, was invalid because the same section also states "the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded under this sub-section..."
The first appellate authority (FAA), however, rejected this contention and upheld the decision of the CPIO.
Siddiqui then filed a second appeal with the Central Information Commission (CIC). CIC Yashovardhan Azad also rejected the request stating in his order of 26 March 2018 that, “The Commission finds that the present query raised by the appellant fails to satisfy either of the essential preconditions of being related to allegations of corruption and human rights violations. As such, the RTI request is bad per se in law and the present appeal is dismissed.’’
Siddiqui then approached the Delhi High Court. His lawyer, Arpit Bhargava, argued in the court on 16 January 2019, that, “the information sought by the petitioner pertains to the violation of human rights; that Siddiqui was/has been falsely implicated in the 7/11 blast case by fabrication of evidence and was awarded capital punishment on the basis of false and fabricated evidence. Thus, his case falls within the scope of human rights violation.’’
The High Court observed that the 'conclusion’ arrived at by the CIC is “erroneous, as the information does relate to a violation of human rights.’’
Justice Vibhu Bakhru from the Delhi HC further observed that, as per the Section 24 (1) of the RTI Act, only the CIC has the authority to examine the document (the IB report) and decide whether it is fit for disclosure.
The HC order states: “In terms of second proviso to Section 24(1) of the RTI Act, the information sought for by the petitioner can be provided to him only on the approval of the CIC. Clearly, the CIC would have to examine whether such information is relevant and material. If the CIC on examination of the material finds that it is not so, the approval for disclosure of such information would not be granted.’’
The HC order of 16 January 2019 also states: “Section 8 of the RTI Act provides for certain exemptions from disclosure of information and the said provisions would be equally applicable to information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violation. Thus, the concerned authorities would have to examine whether the information sought for by the petitioner is otherwise exempt from such disclosure by virtue of Section 8 of the RTI Act.’’
Thus, the matter has been “remanded to the CIC to consider afresh having regard to the observations made in this order.’’
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”