Government Not Permitted To Deny Information Of Vigilance Department Regarding Corruption And Human Rights Violation – Orissa HC
A Bench of the Orissa High Court, comprising of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice R K Pattanaik issued a declaratory writ, which directed that the Government will not be permitted to deny information pertaining to the Vigilance Department involving allegations of corruption and human rights violations, as well as other information that does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the Vigilance Department.
Mr S P Das appeared on behalf of the Petitioners. ASC S N Das appeared for the State and Senior Standing Counsel Srimanta Das appeared for the Vigilance Department.
Three Writ Petitions had been filed by way of Public Interest Litigation, which aimed to challenge a notification issued in 2016 by the Commissioner-cum-Secretary of Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Orissa. The notification provided that nothing contained in the RTI Act shall apply to the General Administration (Vigilance) Department" of the Government of Orissa "and its organization".
The Orissa High Court held that "Not each and every aspect of the functioning of the Vigilance Department would involve issues concerning security and the sanctity of investigation. There could be many an instance where the information concerning an organization would not be amenable to protection from disclosure."
Further, it relied on a catena of judgments, including interpretations taken by the Madras High Court, where it was held that a notification issued under Section 24(1) of the RTI Act to be a "blanket" exemption and insofar as the information sought pertained to "allegations of corruption and human rights violations", its disclosure cannot be prevented under the shield of a notification under Section 24 (1) of the RTI Act.
Holding that that notification is unsustainable in law, the Orissa High Court held that "the notification insofar as it prevents disclosure of information concerning the General Administration (Vigilance) Department even when it pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations would be contrary to the first proviso to Section 24 (4) of the RTI act and, by that yardstick, would be unsustainable in law. If under the RTI Act disclosure is the norm, and non-disclosure the exception, then the impugned notification seeks to take away what is provided by the RTI Act and is therefore ultra vires the RTI Act."
Disposing the Writ Petitions, the Orissa High Court ordered that the General Administration (Vigilance) Department of the Government of Orissa cannot refuse to divulge information pertaining to corruption and human rights violations, which information is expressly not protected from disclosure by virtue of the first proviso to Section 24 (4) of the RTI Act, and that information that does not touch upon any of the sensitive and confidential activities undertaken by the Vigilance Department, cannot be withheld.
The Court also ordered that a further clarificatory notification has to be issued by the Government of Orissa within four weeks.