The Central Information Commission (CIC) has said that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is not obliged to disclose the names of tax-evading Indians reported in what the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) termed as the “Panama Papers”. The CIC, hearing RTI activist Durga Prasad Chaudhary, said that Section 24 (1) of the law, which the applicant was using to question the ED, gave an exemption to the agency from making certain information public.
RTI applicant Durga Prasad had sought information from the ED in 2017 on three points, including disclosure of the names of tax-evading Indians, to which he did not get a ‘satisfactory’ reply. He took the matter to the CIC.
In his application, Chaudhary had sought details of people named in the Panama Papers, the action taken against them till now and the officials responsible for the delay in the investigation. The CIC, citing Section 24 (1) of the RTI Act, said the ED was exempted from making the information public in such cases.
Section 24(1) in The Right To Information Act, 2005
(1) Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the intelligence and security organisations specified in the Second Schedule, being organisations established by the Central Government or any information furnished by such organisations to that Government: Provided that the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded under this sub‑section: Provided further that in the case of information sought for is in respect of allegations of violation of human rights, the information shall only be provided after the approval of the Central Information Commission, and notwithstanding anything contained in Section 7, such information shall be provided within forty‑five days from the date of the receipt of request.
During the hearing, Chaudhary said that the information sought was not provided to him despite the fact that high-level corruption was a serious matter. He told the commission that the names of people registered by the ICIJ in Panama Papers are coming out through newspapers in India and abroad.
The ED, while referring to the exemption granted under the law, argued that the matter was under consideration before the court (sub-judice). Therefore, information related to this matter could not be shared.
Section 24 (1) exempts some intelligence and security agencies of the state from the purview of the transparency law. However, this exemption does not apply to cases of human rights violations.
In the case of the Panama Papers, a lot of records from the legal firm Mosec Fonseca are being investigated. The ICIJ has listed the names of some world leaders and celebrities who stash their capital in foreign companies.
Central Information Commissioner Bimal Julka said that in view of the facts related to the case, the CIC intervened in the matter after hearing the arguments of both the parties and exempting the agency from making information public by various courts. On the basis of the section mentioned above, various courts have given exemption to the agency, Julka said.