At a time when it is debating with Team Anna over CBI's inclusion within the Lokpal's ambit, the Centre has moved the Supreme Court seeking to blunt petitions in various high courts challenging the June 9 notification exempting the investigating agency from the purview of Right to Information Act.
The ministry of personnel, public grievances and pension had issued the June 9 notification to include CBI, the National Investigating Agency ( NIA) and the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) in the Second Schedule of the RTI Act, thus putting these agencies outside the purview of the transparency law.
Six petitions were filed in high courts challenging the validity of the notification, of which two were in Delhi HC, two in Kerala HC and one each in Bombay and Madras HC. Of these, Madras HC gave a judgment on September 9 upholding the validity of the notification.
The Madras HC, while dismissing the challenge to the notification, had said, "...in the light of various sensitive cases which are being handled by the CBI, it cannot be denied that they have a direct bearing not only on national security but also financial security. We are convinced that the CBI would qualify to be defined as a security organization as well. Therefore, we find no error in the decision of the government of India to include the CBI in the Second Schedule of the RTI Act."
Buoyed by the favourable ruling from the Madras HC and apprehending possible conflicting verdicts on the issue of exclusion of CBI from the ambit of RTI, the Centre and the investigating agency decided to drive home the advantage and filed a petition seeking transfer of pending petitions before various HCs to the Supreme Court for an authoritative pronouncement on the validity of the notification.
The joint petition by the Centre and the CBI, drafted by advocate Padmalakshmi Nigam, stressed the Madras HC's ruling on what it called "a substantial question of general importance" and invoked Article 139A of the Constitution, which empowers the SC to transfer to itself petitions pending in HCs on identical issues.
Moreover, defending the litigation in several HCs on the same question of law could cause logistical problems, the Centre and the CBI said. "The interest of justice will be most served by transferring all the writ petitions pending before the various HCs to the Supreme Court and then the decision of the SC would govern the field and answer all the petitions in the country," the petitioners said.