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Coal Scam - CIC allows coal ministry to withhold records

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[h=1]Coal Scam - CIC allows coal ministry to withhold records[/h]

In a surprise argument, the coal ministry has said information related to minutes of screening committee meetings on coal block allocation cannot be made public as it will impede the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe, a plea allowed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) even though the record itself is available on the ministry’s website.

 

An RTI applicant, Meenu, had approached the ministry seeking information regarding the minutes of screening committee meetings on coal block allocations. The ministry had replied that the CBI has registered a preliminary enquiry regarding alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks and refused information citing Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

 

The said section allows a public authority to withhold such information as may impede the process of investigation, apprehension and prosecution of an accused.

 

However, the minutes of screening committee meetings on coal block allocations are available on the website of the coal ministry. Information commissioner Mr Yashovardhan Azad, an ex-Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, ruled in favour of coal ministry in the matter, saying, “The respondent stated that the files concerned have been seized by CBI for enquiry into the allocation of coal blocks and the same is pending, which is why information to the appellant cannot be provided.”

 

Mr Azad said that “After hearing the respondents and on perusal of records, the commission accepts the plea of CPIO (Central Public Information Officer)/FAA (First Appellate Authority).”

 

Recently, justice Vibhu Bakhru of Delhi high court had rejected a similar order by CIC allowing a public authority to withhold information under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act without giving justification. Justice Bakhru had said that “merely citing that the information is exempted under Section 8(1)(h) would not absolve the public authority from discharging its onus.”

 

In a stern order, he said “It is apparent from a bare perusal of the CIC’s order that it does not indicate the reasons that persuaded (it) to uphold the view of the public authority that the disclosure of information sought by the petitioner would impede the prosecution of the petitioner.

 

He added that “Neither the FAA nor the CIC has questioned the public authority as to how the disclosure of information would impede the prosecution.”

 

Read More: http://coal.steelguru.com/india/18892/coal_scam_cic_allows_coal_ministry_to_withhold_records

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