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RTI scores, by default

delhi Updated: Mar 21, 2010 23:23 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times
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Information to which even Parliament was not privy to for more than 40 years was provided to an applicant under the transparency law because of a communication gap between two ministries.

An Udaipur resident had under the Right to Information (RTI) sought details of the private and public property of the erstwhile Maharaja of Mewar, Arvind Partap Singh.

The home ministry refused information to Amba Lal Nayak, saying the details were not disclosed even to Parliament.
“Its disclosure would entail a breach of privilege of Parliament,” Shashi Bhushan, then joint secretary with the ministry told transparency watchdog, the Central Information Commission.

Under the RTI law, any information that can’t be disclosed to Parliament is not to be made public.

When the princely states were amalgamated into India in 1949, the Union government reached agreements with rulers, but the accords were unofficial. It meant that these couldn’t be disclosed to Parliament.

As the home ministry stuck to this stand, it was apparently not aware that the disinvestment ministry had provided the information to a Rajasthan district court in 2003. The court was hearing a case related to disinvestments of a hotel.

When Nayak brought this to the notice of the CIC, which was hearing his appeal against denial of information, Bhushan said the home ministry had not provided the documents made available to the court.

He even quoted former home minister Y.B. Chavan refusing such information to Parliament in 1967 and the ministry’s decision
to deny the information to even National Archives.

The CIC sought opinion of the Lok Sabha Speaker, who termed the home ministry’s stand as debatable. The CIC asked Bhushan
to examine the records and decide if the information could be made public.

The disinvestment ministry, on the other hand, said the filing of certified copies of private property of Sing was “with the knowledge of the ministry of home”. The home ministry had not applied the privilege clause of Parliament while
providing information.

After hearing the appeal for more than a year, the CIC said the information disclosed in an open court couldn’t be refused under the RTI Act.