Govt of India refuses to make public black money reports citing RTI's confidentiality clauses, Parliamentary privilege

By Our Representative
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have compared his government's efforts to flush out black money with his Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. But the ministries and departments operating under him appear to believe that reports prepared by them on black money cannot be made public because they were covered under secrecy clauses of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
While an academic study on the subject has been prepared by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), the National Institute of Financial Management (NIFM), both under Union finance ministry, in alliance with the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), a non-profit economic policy research institute, the Black Money Special Investigation Team (SIT) has submitted five other reports have been submitted to the Supreme Court.
Replying to an RTI plea by well-known RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), if the Department of Revenue, Union finance ministry, has refused to reveal contents of the academic study saying that the report is “covered” under Parliamentary privilege, NIPFP told Nayak, the academic study is “a classified document and confidential under the terms of the agreement with the Department of Revenue.”
The replies followed Nayak seeking a copy of study reports prepared by NIPFP, NIFM and NCAER on the subject of quantum of black money, as also reports submitted by the Black Money SIT to the Supreme Court of India.
While the Black Money SIT, declared last year a public authority by the Central Information Commission, said it did not have any report on black money prepared by the NIPFP, NCAER and NIFM, among the first to reply, says Nayak, ironically, was the Foreign Tax and Tax Research Division of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) replied the information sought “did not pertain to their office”.
The CBDT’s foreign tax department sent in the reply despite the fact that, notes Nayak in an email alert, his “RTI application was primarily about action taken in India (and not abroad) to inquire or investigate the phenomenon of black money accumulation.”
In its reply, the Investigation Division of the Department of Revenue said that it is only concerned “with investigation of tax evasion petitions”, hence transferred away the RTI application to another division. Nayak comments, “By this reckoning, perhaps black money has not yet become the subject of any tax evasion petition.”
As regards reports submitted to the Supreme Court, concerned officials of the Black Money SIT told Nayak that in all five reports on black money had been submitted to the Supreme Court of India in “an ongoing case”, but “did not respond to the request for a copy of these reports.”
Recalls Nayak, “In the matter of Ram Jethmalani & Ors vs Union of India & Ors (popular as the black money case) the Supreme Court of India had rejected the then UPA government's claim that a confidentiality agreement contained in a double tax avoidance treaty with a foreign country should supersede the citizens' right to know.”
He comments, “Public authorities are now citing confidentiality clauses in domestic agreements to reject access to information.”

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