Former finance minister P Chidambaram’s letters to the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer on former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi will remain a secret.
The finance ministry has refused to provide a copy of the two letters under the Right to Information law and referred the application to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that is exempted from the transparency law.
In June, Chidambaram had demanded that the Centre release correspondence between him and the UK chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne “in the interest of transparency”.
The former had made out a case for deporting Modi to India since his passport had been cancelled in 2011 on the ED’s request that was probing him. When UK did not favourably respond to his first letter, Chidambaram had written a second letter “couched in stronger words” to make the same point in 2013.
The government did not respond to this demand.
When an RTI request was filed with the department of revenue to seek a copy of the letters by HT, the department’s public information officer promptly transferred the letter “since subject pertains to ED”.
As expected, the ED later declined to provide any information. It is counted as a security organisation and exempted from the purview of the RTI Act unless the matter relates to a human rights violation or corruption.
The denial of information was grounded on the premise that since Chidambaram had written the letter at the instance of the ED, it was held by them on ED files which are exempted.
RTI activists said this was a common excuse used by departments, particularly the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Secretariat, to evade release of information.
For instance, activist Lokesh Batra said the Cabinet Secretariat routinely transfers applications to provide information on decisions taken at its meetings to one administrative ministry or the other.
If it had not transferred the application, the finance ministry would have had to come up with a reason to defend its refusal.
“By transferring the application to ED, it ensured that the request would be turned down without having to cite a reason,” he added.