Saturday, May 28, 2011

CIC to CBI: why have Ambani brothers not been chargesheeted?

In 2006 case relating to alleged masking of international calls as local calls

The Central Information Commission has directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to state why it has not chargesheeted the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, in a 2006 case relating to the alleged masking of international calls as local calls.

In July 2010, the CBI chargesheeted Manoj Modi, a top executive of the Mukesh Ambani group, and five others in the call re-routing case. The CBI began investigating the case in 2006 — a year after the Ambani brothers reached a settlement under which Reliance Infocomm went to Mr. Anil Ambani. However, Mr. Modi was drawn into the dragnet because the alleged re-routing happened when the company was under the elder brother. Mr. Modi in fact oversaw the setting up of Reliance Infocomm.

In response to a Right to Information application seeking to know why the CBI had excluded the Ambani brothers from the charge sheet, the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the CBI said the reasons were available on record but could not be disclosed because the information was prohibited under Section 8(1) (h) of the RTI Act.

The CBI argued before the Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that disclosing the information would impede the process of investigation; indeed that knowing why the Ambani brothers were not being prosecuted would help other accused persons to submit that they too should not be prosecuted. Mr. Gandhi, however, was unimpressed: “The Commission is unable to understand how lack of evidence against a person can be used by another person against whom evidence has in fact been found, leading to filing of charge sheet against the latter.”

Mr. Gandhi ruled that the CBI could not get away by simply invoking exemption but had to clearly establish that disclosure of information would impede prosecution. Quoting a Delhi High Court judgment, he said access to information under Section of the RTI Act was the rule and exemptions under Section 8 the exception: “A rights-based enactment is akin to a welfare measure. [It] should receive a liberal interpretation.”

Further, “The PIO has failed to produce or place reliance on any cogent evidence or material before the Commission on the basis of which she can establish that disclosure of information would impede the prosecution of offenders.”

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