Right to Information – Master key to good governance

When it comes to Mr Q, the right to know doesn’t apply

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 7, 2006

When it comes to Mr Q, the right to know doesn’t apply

Arun Jaitley

Posted online: Monday, August 07, 2006 at 0000 hrs


Despite request under RTI, CBI declines information on freezing, defreezing of Quattrocchi accounts, Central Information Commission says ‘any attempt to compile voluminous information will disproportionately divert public resources’

Arun Jaitley

Ottavio Quattrocchi is an accused in the Bofors case. The CBI was informed in 1993 that he is a beneficiary of the kickbacks in the Bofors gun deal. No action was permitted to be taken and he absconded from the country. He was close to the powers that be. His name is still held in awe in the corridors of power.

His accounts in a London Bank were frozen on July 25, 2003 by an order of the Queens High Court at London. Subsequently, the CBI asked for defreezing of the accounts on the ground that on account of some judgments of the Delhi High Court, there was nothing left to pursue in the case. The CBI contended that it was in no position to establish the link of the money in the frozen account with the kickbacks in the Bofors case.

I sought to exercise my right under the Right to Information Act 2005 and seek from the CBI all documents in relation to the freezing and de-freezing of the accounts and all communications given by the CBI to B Datta, Additional Solicitor General and further transmitted by Datta to the Crown Prosecution Service at London. I also sought copies of opinions and file notings as to why two erroneous judgments of the Delhi High Court which virtually put the lid on the Bofors’ case were not appealed against by the CBI.

Needless to say, the CBI declined my request. The Internal Appellate Authority within the CBI also rejected my request. I, therefore, decided to treat it as a test case by filing an appeal for my right to information to the Central Information Commission.

A lot has been propagated in the past few months promising that the enforcement of the Right to Information Act, 2005 will ensure transparency in government functioning. It is this transparency which will throw sunlight on the internal files and working of the government and, hence, make the government more accountable and lead to eradication of corruption.

The Bofors case is the single most important corruption case in India which has shaken the faith of Indian society in governance. It is a case where a foreign national close to the preferred family of Indian politics was a direct recipient of the kickbacks in a Defence-related transaction where decision making was done by the recipient’s friend, the then prime minister of India.

We have seen in the past various institutions, including Parliament (Shankaranand-headed JPC), CBI and various political governments, being subverted in order to conceal the truth. At least five judicial pronouncements of the Delhi High Court, some of which were reversed, others not appealed against, also put a lid on the truth. Is every institution in Indian democracy going to be subverted to save this preferred family and its associates from exposure? Will the country be denied information about the facts of this case indefinitely?

Since as a citizen of India I was informed that the enforcement of the Right to Information Act 2005 will give me all the information about this case and lead to the elimination of corruption, I had hoped my remedies under the Act will bear result. So far I have not succeeded.

It is not merely the denial of information that disturbs the citizens. It is the subversion of the Central Information Commission through the reasoning it has chosen to give which convinces me that the Act in its implementation is a complete farce. Let me narrate the reasons for denial of this information.

I wanted to obtain copies of the communication between CBI and the Crown Prosecution Service. I wanted to know the reasons recorded on the file as to why two erroneous judgments were not appealed against. The Commission informed me that “A large number of files relating to this case are housed in two large rooms in safe cupboards. Any attempt to compile voluminous information will disproportionately divert public resources”.

My request to obtain a few pages of information on the Bofors case would be a burden on the National Exchequer. I have thus been denied my right to information.

The further reasons given to me by the Commission for denial of the information make out a poor alibi. I am told that the matter is pending adjudication in various courts. This is factually incorrect. The matter relating to why two erroneous judgements have not been appealed against and correspondence relating to freezing of Quattrocchi’s accounts and is subsequent defreezing is not pending in any court.

I am further informed that investigations in the matter are inconclusive. How does this affect accounts earlier frozen and subsequently defrozen? Quattrocchi has withdrawn the money. Nothing in relation to that money is under investigation today. The further reasons make a curious reading.

First, the charges against Quattrocchi have not been framed since he has not appeared in court. How does this affect my right to information? Second, that a Red-corner notice against Quattrocchi has been issued. Does that have any bearing on freezing of Quattrocchi’s accounts and its subsequent defreezing?

The last reason given in the reasoning is that my request is to be declined since it is covered under the exempted category of section 8(1)(e) and section 8(1)(h) of the Act. The first exempts information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship. I do not think the CBI has a fiduciary relationship with Quattrocchi and, therefore, it ought not seek exemption in this regard.

The second section prevents disclosure of information which would impede an investigation or prosecution of an offender. Informing the country as to why two cases were not filed and why the accounts were defrozen certainly does not impede any prosecution or investigation. The right to information is the foundation of the right to knowledge. The right to knowledge is an inherent part of the freedom of expression.

The citizen’s right to be informed and the right to express oneself is a check on arbitrariness and nepotism in governmental functioning. If the Central Information Commission passes orders in order to prevent exposes relating to associates of the preferred family, the Central Information Commission aids and assists the process of nepotism rather than check it; the Right to Information Act, 2005 in its implementation becomes a farce.



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