Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cabinet Secretariat's belated reply

Mr Rajive Kumar, Joint Secretary & First Appellate Authority at the Cabinet Secretariat, has responded belatedly to my appeal against the Central Public Information Officer's decision to deny information pertaining to the 1971 war spy case.

The latest response has come days after I filed an appeal with the Central Information Commission, with copies cc to the CPIO and Appellate Authority at the Secretariat, arguing against the Secretariat's handling of my RTI request. Part of my complain was that the Appellate Authority had not responded to my appeal.

So, will the latest response change anything? I would not know. The case has already gone to the CIC and they will decide what to do next.

As for the Appellate Authority's response -- it confirms the CPIO's decision that the records can not be given. Mr Kumar writes:

"After carefully considering grounds of appeal dated 3.1.2009 and orders of CPIO dated 19.12.2008 and examination of papers placed before me, I uphold the decision of CPIO that disclosure of information sought would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India for which reason, access to the information is denied in terms of section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, 2005."

The above bit is in response to the queries seeking details about the meetings of the Union Cabinet/Cabinet Committees during the December 1971, when a "reliable source" operating out of the Cabinet leaked out national security information to the CIA.

I had also sought copies of records related to a media report to the effect that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi received inputs from the Research and Analysis Wing about the identity of the minister who leaked out information to the CIA during the 1971 war.

Mr Kumar's blanket response to that is:

"As far as inputs from R&AW are concerned, these are protected under the section 24 of the RTI Act."

He continues: "The appellant [yours truly] has made no case -- bringing out what public interest would be served, which may outweigh, overriding the protection provided under the RTI Act.

The appeal is accordingly disposed off."

I fail to see what case I could possibly have made against a single-line rejection by the CPIO. My appeal to Mr Kumar had stated that the CPIO's response gave "no cogent reasons as to how the disclosure of such old records could 'prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India' in 2009." I wish Mr Kumar had thrown some light on that rather than citing the section of the RTI Act which forbids release of national security information. The spirit of the RTI Act stipulates that the public authority gives some reasons before withholding some records in public interests. So, that was rather elementary, Mr Kumar.

And, does it take too much to understand that no public interest will be served by denying information that could help zero in the name of a traitor who spoiled India's greatest victory?

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