In a reprieve to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's daughter, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Himachal Pradesh high court on Tuesday stayed the order of the State Information Commission (SIC) asking her to give details about land purchased in Chharabra near the President's official residence, "The Retreat".
A division bench comprising justices Tarlok Singh Chauhan and PS Rana till August 7 stayed the SIC order that directed the district administration to reveal information about the land purchased by Priyanka in Shimla in the public interest.
Efforts to withhold the information were turned down by the commission when it ordered the Shimla deputy commissioner on June 29 to furnish details on the matter under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Before Priyanka moved the court against the commission's order, Debashish Bhattacharya, an RTI activist, filed a caveat in the high court on July 4.
Staying the order, the high court observed the petitioner (Priyanka Gandhi) had established a prima facie case for grant of interim relief. "It is more than settled that access to information under section 3 of the RTI Act is the rule and exemption under section 8 is the exception. Section 8 being restriction of fundamental rights must, therefore, be strictly construed," the bench observed.
In its order on June 29 a division bench of Himachal Pradesh's chief information commissioner Bhim Sen and state information commissioner Kalidass Batish summoned the Shimla DC and the additional magistrate. Countering the security grounds cited by the former, Batish argued "even top political figures like the prime minister and former prime ministers with SPG protection provide information about their immovable and the movable assets in their election affidavits".
Bhattacharya had also questioned a letter written by Priyanka citing a security threat to her family if information on the land she had bought was revealed.