Special investigation Team on black money is a ‘public authority’ for the purposes of RTI Act; appointment of CPIO directed

Central Information Commission: The appellant had approached the CIC praying to recognize the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money of the Department of Revenue (Ministry of Finance) as a ‘public authority’ within terms of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005 along with a direction to the authority to appoint a CPIO.

The appellant submitted that clause (h) of Section 2 is clear enough to state that any body or authority constituted by a notification issued by the appropriate government would be a “Public Authority” for the purpose of implementing the RTI Act while placing before the Commission the fact that the SIT was constituted by a notification of the Government of India vide number F. No. 11/2/2009- Ad. E.D. dated 29.05.2014. It being a multi-member body comprising of a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman and 10 other members, the SIT clearly met both the criteria under Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act, 2005 namely that it is a “body” for the purpose of the Section and that it had been constituted by the Central Government vide a notification, the appellant contended.

On hearing the contentions, the Commissioner Mr. Bimal Julka observed that it was very clear that the definition of “Public Authority” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005 does not prescribe “performance of Public Duty” as one of the criteria for determining if an Authority is “Public Authority” or not, yet performance of such duty by the authority, cannot be undermined to not be considered as an important Public Duty by the SIT which qualifies as a Public Authority as per the tests laid down in the first part to Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act.

The Commission finally held that Special Investigation Team on black money is a ‘public authority’ as per the Right to Information Act observing that when a public authority is largely funded by the government and performs the duty of bringing back unaccounted money kept unlawfully in bank accounts abroad, it is undoubtedly performing a public duty and therefore, every citizen of the country has the right to know about its functioning within the Act’s framework and as per its purpose. Accordingly, the authority concerned was directed to appoint a CPIO for SIT. [Venkatesh Nayak v. CPIO & DCIT (OSD),  (Inv. 1), Ministry of Finance, 2017 SCC OnLine CIC 1508, decided on 10.10.2017]

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