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Museum toes secrecy line to deny Haksar papers

Academic circles are aflutter in a matter concerning the Haksar papers, reports Srinand Jha.
Hindustan Times | By Srinand Jha, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 13, 2007 05:00 AM IST

Academic circles are aflutter in a matter concerning the Haksar papers.

Senior advocate, columnist and author AG Noorani is threatening to move court and knock on the doors of the Central Information Commission against the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) after being denied access to the private collection of papers of the late Indira Gandhi’s aide and former bureaucrat Parmeshwar Narayan Haksar.

The Right to Information Act overrides and supersedes the Official Secrets Act of 1923 and all other executive rules, practices and procedures placing restrictions on public access to such papers, Noorani said in his June 19 letter to NMML director Mridula Mukherjee.

The requisitioned documents were denied despite Noorani obtaining written permission from the late bureaucrat’s daughter Nandita Haksar, who had donated the papers to NMML. The same papers had apparently been provided to historian Dr Ramachandra Guha for research on his book India After Gandhi.

Noorani quoted an August 27, 1957 note of Prime Minister Nehru to his principal private secretary: “The papers required are very old and no question of secrecy should apply to such papers. In fact, they should be considered, more or less, public papers.” That was written in another context. In the present juncture, only the terms of the RTI Act prevail, Noorani said.

“The documents in question are original files of the Ministry of External Affairs marked ‘top secret’ and ‘NGO’ (not to go out), while there are certain restrictions on access to information inherent in the RTI Act as well,” Mukherjee said.

A three-member group has been constituted by NMML to evolve a broad policy framework on access to vintage documents in the light of recent judicial rulings and the enactment of the RTI Act.

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