Inspection of files related to vigilance clearance 3 IRS officers – public interest invoked claiming that vigilance clearance granted despite pending enquiry – FAA should give hearing to appellant if expressly sought
1. In his RTI application, the Appellant had sought some information and also the permission to inspect a number of files and documents relating to the pending cases of complaint, vigilance cases and cases of vigilance clearance in respect of three officers of the IRS. While allowing him to inspect the relevant files dealing with vigilance clearance in respect of these officers, the CPIO had refused to provide the remaining information on the ground that, as per the decision of the Supreme Court in the Girish R Deshpande case, the desired information was personal in nature and could not be disclosed. The Appellant had preferred an appeal against this order and had specifically requested the Appellate Authority for an opportunity of being heard in person. However, it appears, the Appellate Authority disposed of the appeal without giving him an opportunity of hearing. The Appellate Authority endorsed the decision of the CPIO and disposed of the appeal.
2. During the hearing, among other submissions, the Appellant specifically wanted us to take note of the fact that the Appellate Authority had not given him any opportunity of hearing even after he expressly requested for that. He also, with the help of some information he had obtained through RTI from the CVC, submitted that the Appellate Authority in the CVC had not given any personal hearing to anyone except in three cases since the Right to Information Act came into being. Although the Right to Information (RTI) Act or the rules made thereunder do not prescribe in detail the procedure to be followed by the Appellate Authority in dealing with first appeals, by convention, the Appellate Authority should give an opportunity of hearing to any Appellant if the Appellant expressly wants to be heard. Therefore, we would like the Appellate Authority to bear this in mind and, wherever any such request is made, to afford an opportunity of hearing to that Appellant.
3. Now, coming to the information sought, part of the request has been met by allowing the Appellant to inspect the files dealing with vigilance clearance in respect of these three officers. He argued that he should also be provided the remaining information because it would serve a larger public interest. He explained that all these three officers had been facing serious vigilance charges and, in spite of that, they had been given vigilance clearance by the CVC and, based on that, they had even been offered further appointments to sensitive posts like the ombudsman in the Department. According to him, the disclosure of this information could place in the public domain the misdeeds of these officers and thereby serve a larger public interest of eliminating corruption. On the other hand, the respondents stuck to the argument given by both the CPIO and the Appellate Authority and contended that the desired information was personal in nature and should not be disclosed.
4. After carefully considering the facts of the case and the submissions made before us, we are of the view that while, ordinarily, such information should be considered to be personal in nature, as per the decision of the Supreme Court in the above case, it could be disclosed in larger public interest as held by the Supreme Court itself. All we need to decide is whether the information is likely to serve any larger public interest or not. In the present case, if what the Appellant has submitted is true, namely, that vigilance clearance has been granted to all or some of these officers by the CVC while various complaints of the vigilance nature were either pending or under enquiry against them, then, it would be absolutely necessary that this information should be disclosed because that would serve a larger public interest by exposing what these officers are like in reality. If some officers facing various kinds of enquiry for their acts of omission or corruption end up getting further appointments or career promotion, it cannot be in the interest of the society. Although the respondent very categorically asserted that it was not the CVC practice to grant vigilance clearance to officers facing enquiries, even then, in view of the submissions made by the Appellant, we would like the CPIO to revisit the records in respect of all these three officers and to find out if, indeed, vigilance clearance had been granted while enquiries are pending either in the CVC or elsewhere. If he finds any truth in this claim, then he must disclose the desired information in totality. We direct the CPIO to complete this exercise within 15 working days of receiving this order and to communicate to the Appellant either the information or his finding.
Chief Information Commissioner
Citation: Sh. R K Jain v. Central Vigilance Commission in File No.CIC/SM/A/2013/000312