HC asks CIC to reconsider order of denial as death row convict seeks IB report to prove innocence
Ehtesham Qutubuddin Siddique Vs CPIO and Intelligence Bureau
About/from the judgment:
As a death row convict in the 7/11 Mumbai train serial bombings seeks under the RTI Act a copy of an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report submitted to the Home Ministry in order to prove his wrongful prosecution, the Delhi High Court has held that his RTI plea pertains to human rights violation and directed the Central Information Commission (CIC) to reconsider its order by which his appeal was dismissed on the grounds that the IB was out of the purview of the RTI Act and the information sought by did not relate to allegations of human rights violation or corruption.
Justice Vibhu Bakhru said so while holding that human rights would include life and liberty as he allowed the appeal of Ehtesham Qutubuddin Siddique against the CIC order.
He, however, expressly stated that though information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations are not excluded from disclosure under Article 24(1) of the RTI Act (which grants exemption from disclosure to intelligence and security organisations), it is covered under Section 8 of the Act (which exempts from disclosure information which might affect sovereignty and integrity of India, its security, trade secret etc.) and the authorities concerned would have to examine whether the information sought for by the petitioner is otherwise exempt from such disclosure by virtue of Section 8 of the RTI Act.
In the instant case, Ehtesham was convicted and sentenced to death for his involvement in the July 11, 2006, serial bombings on a Mumbai suburban train which claimed over 200 lives.
Ehtesham claims he has been prosecuted and convicted on false evidence and relying on the contents of a report the IB had submitted to the Home Ministry in the year 2009, he has suggested a review of the evidence on the basis of which he and others had been arrested.
The CIC dismissed his plea for a copy of that review report after which he moved the high court.
While allowing Ehtesham's plea, the court said, "There can be no dispute that the human rights would include life and liberty. It is the petitioner's case that he is deprived of his liberty on the basis of false evidence and the information available in the report placed before the Home Minister would indicate the same."
"In view of the above, there can be little doubt that the petitioner's application seeking review report does pertain to an allegation of human rights violation. The gravamen of his allegation is that he has been falsely implicated by the respondent despite the respondent having information that the petitioner was not involved in 7/11 blast case," said Justice Bakhru.
"The CIC has held that the query raised by the petitioner failed to satisfy either of the essential preconditions of being related to allegations of corruption or human rights violation. This Court is of the view that the said conclusion is erroneous, as the information does relate to violation of human rights," he held.
Since second proviso to Section 24(1) of the RTI Act provides that in the case of information sought for (from security and intelligence organisations) is in respect of allegations of violation of human rights, the information shall only be provided after the approval of the Central Information Commission, Justice Bakhru said, "Clearly, the CIC would have to examine whether such information is relevant and material. If the CIC on examination of the material finds that it is not so, the approval for disclosure of such information would not be granted."
He also found it necessary to observe that "merely because such information regarding allegations of corruption and human rights violation is not excluded from the purview of Section 24(1) of the Act, does not necessarily mean that the said information is require to be disclosed.".
"The only import of second proviso to Section 24(1) is that information relating to corruption and human rights violation would fall within the scope of the RTI Act. Section 8 of the RTI Act provides for certain exemptions from disclosure of information and the said provisions would be equally applicable to information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violation. Thus, the concerned authorities would have to examine whether the information sought for by the petitioner is otherwise exempt from such disclosure by virtue of Section 8 of the RTI Act," the court said.
Background of the case
In July 2006, the petitioner was arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad, Mumbai, in relation to the Mumbai train blast case.
In September 2008, members of terror outfit Indian Mujahideen were arrested by the Mumbai Crime Branch for their involvement in various bomb blasts cases viz. Ahmedabad blast in 2008; Delhi blast in 2008; and Hyderabad blast in 2007.
Ehtesham told the court that during investigation by various agencies, it was revealed that members of the Indian Mujahideen were also involved in the Mumbai train blasts and claimed that the IB collected information about the involvement of Indian Mujahideen from various agencies and prepared a report and placed it before the Home Minister in the year 2009, suggesting review of the evidence in the 7/11 blast case.
He suggested that the said report indicated that it was Indian Mujahideen and not the earlier accused (including the petitioner) who were responsible for the blasts in the Mumbai trains.
Ehtesham was tried in the blast case and sentenced to death in the year 2015 by a Special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) Court. His appeal against the conviction and sentence is pending before the Bombay High Court.
Ehtesham claims that he has been convicted on the basis of false evidence and to substantiate his claim, he has been seeking a copy of the IB report placed before the Ministry of Home Affairs in the year 2009 for review/re-appreciation of evidence in the 7/11 blast case.
On 04.09.2017, he filed an RTI application before the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs seeking true copy of the IB report, which was placed before the Ministry of Home Affairs in the year 2009 for review/re-appreciation of evidence in the 7/11 blast case.
His plea was rejected on the ground that by virtue of Section 24(1) of the RTI Act, the IB is excluded from the purview of the RTI Act.
His first appeal was also dismissed following which he was forced to move the CIC which, on March 26, 2018, dismissed his plea.
Before the high court, his counsel contended that he had been falsely implicated in the 7/11 blast case by fabrication of evidence and was awarded the capital punishment on the basis of false and fabricated evidence. According to him, this would clearly fall within the scope of human rights violation.
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