Asia & Australia

October 12, 2017

SIT on black money under RTI ambit: CIC

Black Money

The Supreme Court-appointed SIT on black money is a public authority, which makes it fall under the ambit of the RTI Act, said the Central Information Commission.

Quoting several previous orders of the Supreme Court, information commissioner Bimal Julka, said every action of the government must be seen in the context of public interest and for larger public good and also cited the recent decision of the Supreme Court to upload the Collegium's resolutions on the SC website for public scrutiny.

In 2014, the SIT was set up on the orders of the Supreme Court through a government notification to suggest methods to curb black money in the economy. Headed by former Supreme Court judge MB Shah, the SIT is responsible for investigating cases of black money stashed abroad through coordination of various agencies like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Financial Intelligence Unit, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI).

The order came on an RTI application by activist Venkatesh Nayak to the finance ministry seeking information on seven points, along with a photocopy of the letter to the SIT chairman.

The RTI, however, was forwarded by the finance ministry to the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), which refused to give the information while referring it back to the finance ministry for a part of the query.

It cited certain exemption clauses under the RTI Act. Nayak said, "After waiting for a reply from the Black Money SIT for 140 days, I decided to file a complaint before the CIC -not for demanding access to information but to declare the SIT as a 'public authority' under the RTI Act. The substance of my argument was that being a multimember body, as per the government's May 2014 notification, the SIT was clearly a 'body' and as this body was constituted by a notification in the official gazette, the SIT met both criteria for being recognised as a public authority under Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act."

Julka in his order noted, "When a public authority is largely funded by the government and performs the duty of bringing back unaccounted money unlawfully kept in bank accounts abroad, it was essentially performing a public duty and thus every citizen has every right to know about certain information within the framework of the RTI Act, 2005." The order said the SIT was constituted by a central government notification thus there is "no scope of ambiguity" in considering the SIT as a "body" as envisaged within the definition of "Public Authority" under the RTI Act. The order said, "Considering the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 and in light of conditions laid down under Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, it would be just and appropriate to declare the SIT a public authority, more so for the reason that it was performing a pious public duty bestowed upon it by the Supreme Court..."

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