Skip to main content

Black Money SIT is public authority under RTI: Govt of India told as officials refuse info on Falciani allegations

Herve Falciani
By Our Representative
In a significant ruling, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has held the Special Investigation Team (SIT), constituted by the Government of India to investigate all matters relating to black money in 2014 soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP won a resounding victory in Lok Sabha polls, is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
The black money SIT is headed by two retired justices of the Supreme Court and comprises of senior representatives of various ministries, departments and agencies, engaged in ensuring law enforcement and tax compliance.
The ruling comes following the argument of a Government of India official, attached with the Union finance ministry, in an appeal filed by senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, that black money SIT saying that “no designated Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) and First Appellate Authority (FAA) was appointed by the SIT”, even as replying in the “negative” when CIC asked if he had any objections if the SIT was declared as a public authority.
Nayak, who is with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), had gone to the CIC to get a ruling that the black money SIT was a public authority after the Government of India successively refused to part any information for about one-a-half years on what exactly it was doing with regard to whistleblower Herve Falciani’s allegation that the authorities in India were “not doing enough” to make use of the materials he had supplied to them about illegal funds stashed abroad.
The SIT was constituted in compliance of the directives of the Supreme Court in the matter of Ram Jethmalani & Ors vs Union of India & Ors -- popularly known as the black money case and a landmark judgement in RTI jurisprudence.
A former employee of HSBC Bank, based on Falciani’s allegation, on November 4, 2015, Nayak filed an RTI request with the with the authorities in the black money SIT seeking copies the letter reportedly written by Falciani to the chairman, SIT, of responses sent by the SIT to Falciani, of file notings related to Falciani’s letter, and documents containing details of action taken on Falciani’s letter.
Says Nayak, “as it happens often”, the authorities in the Ministry of Finance “played soccer with my RTI application for more than a month” and finally an official of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) “rejected” access to information sought by claiming that “ongoing investigations would be hampered”.
Interestingly, the official reply referred to the suppliers of materials (such as Mr. Falciani) as "certain persons claiming to be whistleblowers". Comments Nayak, “Such replies are but natural in a situation where the government is keen on diluting the Whistleblower Protection Act instead of implementing it.”
After waiting for a reply from the black money SIT for 140 days, Nayak filed a complaint before the CIC to declare the SIT as a 'public authority' under the RTI Act, which led the CIC to direct the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to declare the black money SIT as such.
Hoping that this would help him get the required information from the black money SIT, Nayak says, “CIC's order is a very positive step in the direction of expanding the regime of transparency to bodies that meet the criteria of a 'public authority' but do not comply with the provisions of the RTI Act for reasons best known to them.”
“Despite this case taking almost two years to reach finality, this is a timely development on the eve of the RTI Act entering the thirteenth year of implementation. It remains to be seen whether the SIT and the Government will comply with this order or challenge it before the courts”, he adds.

Comments

TRENDING

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Mental health: India's 95% patients "deprived" of medical care, treatment gap 70%

By Moin Qazi*
Among the many challenges India faces, the most underappreciated is the ongoing mental health crisis. Mental illness is actually India’s ticking bomb. An estimated 56 million Indians suffer from depression, and 38 million from anxiety disorders. For those who suffer from mental illness, life can seem like a terrible prison from which there is no hope of escape; they are left forlorn and abandoned, stigmatized, shunned and misunderstood.

Modi model? "Refusal" to build Narmada's micro canals, keep Kutch dry; help industry

By Medha Patkar*
This is the latest photograph of the Kutch Branch Canal (KBC) of the Sardar Sarovar, as of April 8! What does it show, expose, and what memories do you recall? Is it dry or dead? Is it a canal or a carcass of the same?

Bill Gates "promoting" GMO, Bt cotton, like cartels that have roots in Hitler's Germany

By Our Representative
World-renowned environmental leader and ecologist Dr Vandana Shiva has expressed concern that Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation, has joined the bandwagon of “a poison cartel of three" – Monsanto and Bayer, Syngenta and ChemChina, Dow and DuPont – all of whom allegedly have “roots in Hitler’s Germany and finding chemicals to kill people”.

Indian talc products contain "contaminated" asbestos structures, can cause cancer: Study

Counterview Desk
A recent study, using polarizing light microscopy, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), electron diffraction, and X-ray analysis on multiple over-the-counter Indian talc products for the presence of asbestos, has concluded that large quantities of body talc products are likely to pose a public health risk for asbestos-related diseases, especially for the cancers related to asbestos exposure.

Why are you silent on discrimination against Dalit jawans? Macwan questions Modi

By Rajiv Shah
Close on the heels of releasing his book in Gujarati, "Bhed Bharat", which lists 319 cases of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis across the country over the last five years, well-known Gujarat Dalit rights leader Martin Macwan has shot an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, telling him the reasons why he does not want vote for the BJP.

Emergence of a rare Dalit teacher in IIT-Kanpur "disturbed" certain faculty members

By PS Krishnan, IAS (Retd)*
Dr Subrahmanyam Sadrela, a faculty member in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Kanpur since January 1, 2018, and one of the rare Dalit members of the faculty in IIT group of institutions, is facing the threat of revocation of his PhD thesis, and thereby also jeopardizing his job and career.

RTE in remote areas? Govt of India "plans" to close down 2.4 lakh schools

By Srijita Majumder*
The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, came into effect on April 1, 2010, for the first time made it obligatory on the part of the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children from 6-14 years of age in India. The Act, despite its limitations, had progressive elements like neighbourhood schools, community participation, ban on corporal punishment, no detention, continuous and comprehensive evaluation and it hence it appeared that India was not far from achieving universal elementary education.

Election Commission suffering from worst-ever "credibility crisis": Ex-bureaucrats

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, a group of ex-bureaucrats have lamented ‘weak-kneed’ responses of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Citing various violations of the model code of conduct, and pointing towards how ECI has taken little action, the letter asks the President to tell ECI to “conduct itself in a manner where its independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are not questioned.”

Investigation shows Narmada downstream "seriously" polluted. Reason: apathy, greed

By Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant, Swati Desai*
Our investigation regarding quality of water flowing in the Narmada river downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD), dated April 6, 2019, between 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. reiterates, what is commonly known now, that the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is planned without considering its impact on the downstream Narmada River stretch of 161 kilometres, its ecology, biodiversity and fishery, and lakhs of people living close to and dependent on the river directly or indirectly. This, in turn, has led to its present disastrous state.