HC seeks Centre’s response on CIC's powers

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Friday sought a response from the Centre on a plea whether the Central Information Commission (CIC) was legally empowered to prosecute an entity or a person for the offence of perjury if false documents are filed before the transparency panel.

Justice Vipin Sanghi issued a notice to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and asked it to file its reply to the petition before March 16, the next date of hearing.

The court was hearing the petition of Shanmuga Patro, a Delhi-based lawyer, who alleged the CIC refused to initiate prosecution for the offence of perjury against Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), "its aides and affiliates for filing forged and fabricated documents in evidence" before the panel.

The apex transparency panel, in its December 9 order, said "Without going into the merits of the case, first of all it becomes necessary for the commission to see the source of its power to invoke section 340 (perjury) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) ...

"Nothing has been stated in the said application (of Patro) about the powers of the Commission but in our opinion, the Commission cannot take cognisance of a complaint under section 340 of CrPC as such explicit powers have not been granted by to the Commission under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Hence, the Commission is constrained to decline the requested relief."

Patro, in the petition, has sought a declaratory writ that the CIC "has requisite powers under section 340 of CrPC and/or inherent power to enquire into offences referred to in section 195 (prosecution for contempt of lawful authority of public servants, for offences against public justice...) of the CrPC, which appears to have been committed in or in relation to the proceedings before itself."

The petition raised the issue as to whether the CIC could be treated as a "court" for prosecuting persons for the offence of perjury or not.

It also said whether the Information Commissioners, including the CIC, could be treated as "public servants" within the definition of section 195 of the CrPC.

Earlier, Patro was denied certain information under RTI about Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) by the CIC which said that it (foundation) was not a "public authority" in terms of the Act and was not bound to provide information.

Patro alleged that the foundation had informed the CIC that received about four per cent of its revenue from the government.

However, "in reality it receives a greater percentage of its revenue from Government," he alleged and filed copies of affidavits filed by the foundation and its Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in November 1998 before the Delhi High Court revealing its financial statements in response to civil case instituted by late PN Lekhi.

The lawyer alleged that the foundation took "conflicting stands" before the CIC and the High Court and sought prosecution of its office bearers.

The transparency panel declined the plea to prosecute the RGF and its office bearers saying it lacked the power.