Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur has directed the officials of the Prime Minister's Office, who have records related to the demonetisation decision, to present themselves before him and explain how the disclosure of the documents would impact the country's economic interests.
In a separate case by the same Right to Information applicant R L Kain, Mathur also rejected that contention of the Rashtrapati Bhavan that his question, whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi had communicated to the President his decision of demonetising Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes and issuance of new Rs 2,000 notes, does not come under the definition of 'information' that can be sought under the Act.
Kain had approached the Commission, after his RTI queries on demonetisation from the PMO, the President's Secretariat, and the finance ministry did not elicit satisfactory response.
He had sought to know from the PMO the certified copy of the approval accorded by the prime minister on the file relating to demonetisation and a copy of the approval granted for revision of the existing list of the denomination of notes under section 24 of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 for introduction of new series of Rs 2,000.
In his application, Kain also sought a copy of the recorded (unedited) speech of the prime minister, announcing the decision on Doordarshan on November 8, 2016.
The PMO did not provide complete information citing section 8(1)(a)--which exempts information the disclosure of information which may prejudicially affect economic interests of the state -- in some case while claiming that queries are not 'information' as per the RTI Act.
"This Commission is of the opinion that the respondent (the PMO) should elaborate their reasoning with regard to impact on the economic interest of the country as claimed by them under section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. Further, this Commission observed that the concerned CPIO(s) holding the record(s) should also be present before this Commission at New Delhi on the next date of hearing,” Mathur said.
In his RTI application to the President’s Secretariat, Kain had sought to know whether Prime Minister Modi had communicated to the President his decision of demonetisation and issuance of new bank notes of Rs 2000, which he alleged, violated section 24 and 25 of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934.
Kain stated that no mandatory procedure was followed by the prime minister, the finance minister or by any executive officers and no information appears to have been sent to the President as required by Article 8(a) of the Constitution of India but orders were communicated to the President, Mathur noted in the order.
"He wants information as to when the impugned orders were communicated to the President or when the Prime Minister himself went to meet the President personally as required by the Constitution; what was the reaction of the President of India with regard to violation of mandatory provisions etc," Mathur said.
Kain alleged before the CIC that due to demonetisation, the whole country was affected and 150 persons had died and even then, the respondent (the Secretariat) has denied the information, the Commissioner noted.
The President's office said that information sought by the complainant is in the nature of queries and RTI Act does not cast any obligation on it to answer queries.
Moreover, the Cabinet papers/decision are secret documents and the same cannot be disclosed, it said.
The applicant said the President's office had wrongly denied the information under section 2 (f) of the RTI Act which defines what all can be accessed under the law.
"The reply given by the respondent (President’s Secretariat) is not acceptable to the Commission. The Commission is of the view that the sought for queries are covered within the meaning of ‘information’ u/s 2(f) of the RTI Act. Therefore, the respondent should give a categorical reply to the appellant on each point of the RTI application...However, if information is exempted, then respondent is free to exercise exemption clause," Mathur said.
In a previous order on the plea of a different RTI applicant, the Commission had ordered that all documents related to demonetisation should be disclosed.
"All the public authorities have a moral, constitutional, RTI-based democratic responsibility to explain to each and every citizen who is affected by demonetisation, the information, reasons, impact and remedial measures, if discovered any negative impact," Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu had said in May last year.