The Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team on black money is answerable under the RTI Act, the Central Information Commission has held. Bringing SIT under the RTI Act, Information Commissioner Bimal Julka said every action of the government must be actuated in public interest and for larger public good. The SIT was set up on the orders of the Supreme Court in 2014 through a government notification to suggest methods to curb black money in the economy.
The SIT, which is headed by former Supreme Court judge MB Shah, is responsible for investigating cases of black money stashed abroad through coordination of various members from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Financial Intelligence Unit, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and DRI.
The case pertained to RTI query sent by activist Venkatesh Nayak to Finance Ministry demanding information on seven-points including photocopy of letter reportedly written by Herve Falcini, former employee of the Geneva Branch of HSBC Bank to the Chairman, Special Investigation Team (SIT).
The Ministry and Income Tax department denied part of information citing exemption clauses of the RTI Act pertaining to fiduciary capacity and ongoing investigation. They also said that some part of the information may be with the member secretary, SIT. Nayak approached the Commission pleading to issue appropriate orders recognising the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on Black Money as a “Public Authority” within the terms of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
During the hearing the revenue department official said that all RTI applications pertaining to the SIT were dealt with by their section by collating inputs from departments/divisions concerned. On a query by the Commission, whether the RTI applications pertaining to the SIT were responded to or not, the official replied in the affirmative but submitted that no designated central public information officer (to respond RTI applications) or First appellate authority was appointed by the SIT. “When a Public Authority is largely funded by the Government and performs the duty of bringing back unaccounted money unlawfully kept in bank accounts abroad, it was essentially performing a Public Duty and thus every citizen has every right to know about certain information within the framework of the RTI Act, 2005,” he said.
It said that SIT was constituted by a central government notification thus there is “no scope of ambiguity” in considering the SIT as a “body” as envisaged within the definition of “Public Authority” under the RTI Act. “…considering the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 and in light of conditions laid down under Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, 2005 it would be just and appropriate to declare the SIT, a Public Authority more so for the reason that it was performing a pious public duty bestowed upon it by the Supreme Court of India of bringing back the unaccounted money in foreign bank accounts by Indians or other entities operating in India,” he said.