Friday, January 29, 2016

President's rule in Arunachal: Why were official papers submitted in sealed cover to Apex Court? ask activists

By Our Representative
The Government of India’s refusal to place the Governor's report to the President of India in public domain, citing reasons for imposition of President’s rule, has invited strong reaction from influential sections of Right to Information (RTI) activists, who insist, the disclosure cannot cause “any harm to public interest.”
The President’s rule was imposed on the north-eastern border state On January 26, 2016 after India celebrated its 67th Republic day.
The reaction comes amidst senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) seeking copies of all correspondence about the imposition of President’s rule, including the circumstances in which the Article 356 has been applied on Arunachal Pradesh, under the RTI Act as a “test case”.
The RTI query has been filed even as the Government of India submitted documents on imposition of the President’s rule to the Supreme Court, which the Congress has been approached, in sealed cover. Nayak says, “The fate of my RTI will also depend on the Apex Court's decision”, wondering, whether this is the "quest for transparency" about which the Prime Minister's website of.
Nayak says, under Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act, the government is duty-bound to “disclose all relevant facts while announcing important decisions that affect the public at large”, and the imposition of President’s rule should fall in this category.
Pointing out that the Proclamation of President's rule contains no details “about why such a step was taken”, Nayak says, “It is difficult to believe that a report made under Article 356 of the Constitution will contain such explosive material that its disclosure in the public domain will be injurious to the public interest”.
He adds, “Unless it can be shown that disclosing the contents of the Arunachal Pradesh Governor's report(s) under Article 356 can cause harm to any public interest which is recognised as a legitimate ground for refusal of access to information under the RTI Act, it must be placed in the public domain.”
Taking particular exception to the submission of the report containing details of imposing President’s rule in a sealed cover following the Additional Solicitor General recommendation, Nayak says, the stance is “in direct opposition” to what Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar did as leader of the Opposition in Goa in 2007.
“Parrikar sought the Governor's report under the RTI Act”, Nayak recalls, adding, this followed July-August 2007 political developments in Goa resulted in the then Congress state government losing its majority and the State was placed under President's Rule.
When the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Goa Raj Bhavan rejected the request claiming that the Governor was not a public authority under the RTI Act, Nayak says, the Goa State Information Commission (SIC) ruled in favour of disclosure of the Governor's reports.
“The Raj Bhavan challenged the SIC's decision before the Panjim Bench of the Bombay High Court. The single-judge Bench upheld the decision. That order was also challenged by the Raj Bhavan before the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court, which “also ruled in favour of disclosure”, recalls Nayak.

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