No fault can be found with the whistle blower if he/she discloses a ‘carefully maintained’ document for public interest

Supreme Court: While discussing the issue of fair investigations vis-à-vis Coal Block Allocation Scam/Coalgate, and the allegations leveled upon the whistle blower for disclosing the official notes of the investigations in the case, the three Judge Bench of M.B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A.K.Sikri, JJ.,  observed that if the documents of the CBI which should have been carefully maintained, are easily accessible, then no fault can be found with the whistle blower if his/her action of accessing and disclosing the documents is for public interest. The Court further observed that the action of the whistle blower in the present case has been to highlight the misuse of authority by the former Director of CBI to scuttle the investigations in the Coalgate Scam which is in public interest, therefore the petitioners  did not commit any form of perjury or violated the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

Prashant Bhushan contended in his application to the Court that the former CBI Director had several meetings with the persons accused in the coal block allocation case without the presence of any investigating officer, hence he should be recused from the case and SIT should be appointed to investigate the abuse of authority by the former Director. Vikas Singh representing Ranjit Sinha, contended before the Court that the petitioners, Kamal Kant Jaiswal and Prashant Bhushan had committed perjury and contempt of court by misleading the Court and by disclosing the official notes related to the case violated the provisions of the Offical Secrets Act, 1923.

 

The Court on perusal of the facts and arguments, refused to give any opinion upon the allegations of misuse of authority by the former Director, however the Court observed with concern that neither the former Director, nor the counsels appearing for the CBI denied the fact that the former Director had met few of the accused persons at his residence without the presence of the investigating officer. The Court further observed that there cannot be any justification for him to meet any accused person in a criminal case where investigation is underway, without the investigating officer being present. The Court further stated that the investigation agency has been endowed with a great responsibility to ensure fairness in investigation, but the fact that the former Director met some of the accused persons without the presence of the investigation team raises a doubt upon the fairness of the investigations conducted in the case, therefore further inquiries have become necessary to ensure the fairness in the investigations. The Court concluded by observing that disclosure of the official notes indicating Ranjit Sinha’s dubious role in the investigations does not in any manner violates the Order of this Court dated 08.05.2013 to maintain secrecy of the inquiries, for the whistle blower acted in public interest; also the file notes speak for themselves and any interpretation given to them can not fall in the preview of perjury. Common Cause v. Union of India,  2015 SCC OnLine SC 485, decided on 14.05.2015

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