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

Impact of state repression? Kashmir's 65% people prefer independence: Cambridge study

By Rajiv Shah 
Even as the Government of India’s controversial move to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories is not only refusing to down die but has acquired international dimensions, a recent study, published by the Cambridge University Press, has claimed “pro-independence attitudes” among that 65% of Kashmiris, warning, this sentiment worsens when the state machinery resorts “repressive violence”.

Congress' anti-democratic laws led to Modi govt's 'Constitutional' changes: Scholars

Counterview Desk
A large number of academics* said to be belonging to several Indian and international institutions, even as taking strong exception to the Narendra Modi government's alleged move to amend the Constitution through "illegitimate" means, have taken strong exception to their colleagues in academia who we have become "all too accustomed to adopting a calculated silence in the face of such indignities."

Dholera 'inundated': Gujarat govt tries selling low lying area as top smart city site

Counterview Desk
Even as the Dholera Special Investment Region Regional Development Authority (DSIRDA) of the Gujarat government was busy organising a junket for Gujarat-based journalists for the area sought to be sold as an ideal special investment region (SIR) for industrialists, well-known farmers' activist Sagar Rabari has wondered why no investor has so far agreed to put in money in an area situated in Ahmedabad district along the Gulf of Khambhat.

Kashmir normal? Schoolboys, teenagers being arbitrarily picked up, detained: Report

Counterview Desk
A four-person team, consisting of Jean Dr├Ęze, well-known development economist; Kavita Krishnan, who is with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist); Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA); and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), back from a five-day fact-finding mission (August 9-13) from Kashmir, has said that people they spoke to “expressed their pain, anger, and sense of betrayal against the Government of India.”
In a report, “Kashmir Caged”, released along with a short eight-minute film, they said, the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, dissolution of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and bifurcating it into two Union Territories, is not being supported by anyone they met, except for BJP spokesperson on Kashmir affairs Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, who claimed 46% vote share in J&K.
Excerpts from the report: When our flight landed, and the airlines staff announced that passeng…

Quit India Movement 'betrayal' and dubious role of Hindu Mahasabha, RSS leaders

By Shamsul Islam*
After the recent guillotine of Article 370, Hindutva ideologue Ram Madhav, while celebrating the occasion stated that it was honouring of the sacrifices of Dr Shyam Prasad Mukherjee and thousands others who laid down their lives for its removal. It is to be noted that Dr Mukherjee was a cadre of RSS and was groomed into a Hindutva leader by another Hindutva icon, VD Savarkar.

Kashmir kayoed, bhakts 'jubilant': Much like crowds when Hitler purged Jews, Catholics

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
August 12, 2019 was the great festival of Eid al-Adha (incidentally, for Jews, Christians and Muslims – the sacrifice of Abraham is a very significant one); for the people of Kashmir however, this year Eid was a sad day indeed, what with the lockdown and communications blockade!

Modi's Gujarati mind? Why govt move to 'sell-off' defence PSUs isn't in national interest

By Sandeep Pandey*
The Standing Committee on Defence, 2017-18, of the 16th Lok Sabha highlights the idea of Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured). The Committee expressed concern over the import content of equipments produced and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories (OFs) and defence Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) because of the dependence it creates for military hardware on foreign suppliers.

Central Gujarat effluent channel 'releasing' highly polluted industrial wastewater: PM told

Counterview Desk
Senior environmentalists of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), Vadodara, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Gujarat chief minister, the Gujarat chief secretary, and senior Government of India and Gujarat government officials dealing with environment, pollution and climate change have said that the authorities’ response their pleas to take action against the leakages and flow of polluted wastewater from the effluent channels of Central Gujarat industrial areas has met with complete inertia.

Modi's Kashmir move meant to 'solidify' Hindu majoritarianism, 'demonize' Muslims

By Battini Rao*
The parliament of India on August 6 put its stamp of approval on bills abrogating article 370 and downgrading the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to two union territories. When the representatives of the people of India were deciding the fate of the state, the people of J&K were forced into collective house arrests.

Hindus to be 'sent' to Kashmir? Despite Israeli settlements, peace eludes the region

By Anand K Sahay*
Curfew, news and communications blackout, transportation shut-down... News reports from Kashmir are worrying. So are the views relayed through the media, especially television. Old-fashioned repression seems to be consorting comfortably with expressions of concern “for our Kashmiri brethren”. We are looking at Orwell’s 1984 in the making.