Thursday, February 11, 2016

J&K Raj Bhawan "rejecting" RTI plea seeking copies of correspondence on Governor's rule is "bad" in law

Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool
By Our Representative
The Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Raj Bhawan has set aside a right to information (RTI) application by Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, chairperson, J&K RTI Movement, seeking copies of correspondence between the Governor and the President of India on the imposition of Governor's rule in J&K on January 8, saying, a case on placing Governors under RTI is pending Supreme Court.
The Governor's rule was imposed following the death of the then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed a day earlier and the inability to find a successor to take over.
Saying that this is the decision of the Raj Bhawan “is not only bad in law but also smacks of ignorance of the facts of the pending Supreme Court case”, senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak has said, the Raj Bhawan should know that the office of the J&K Governor is covered by the J&K RTI Act enacted by the legislature of state in 2009, while the Supreme Court case concerns the Goa Governor, who is governed by the Central RTI Act.
Pointing out that the J&K Raj Bhawan seems to be “hoping that the Apex Court will rule in favour of immunising all Governors, including that of J&K”, Nayak, who is with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), believes, “This is highly unlikely and will be against the norms of judicial discipline.”
The public information officer (PIO) of the Raj Bhawan, says Nayak, even went so far as to reject “access to a copy of the Proclamation signed by the Governor, claiming that it was privileged information”, though it has “already been gazetted.”
“It must be pointed out that the Central RTI Act does not apply to J&K because of the special position granted to that State under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Parliament cannot make laws that apply to J&K on several subjects and RTI is, arguably, one of them”, says Nayak.
Calling the RTI intervention in J&K “a test case”, Nayak says, the reply by the PIO suggests that the “RTI is yet to become an engendered value in many jurisdictions”, pointing out that how another RTI application he made to the Union Home Ministry, in sharp contrast, “readily furnished copies of the letter written by the Governor to the President explaining the situation that had arisen in J&K.”
Adds Nayak, the Union Home Ministry even furnished “the draft of the Proclamation for which he sought his concurrence, the file noting prepared by the Ministry and the advice that was put up for the President by the Home Minister and the Prime Minister, and his communication of concurrence sent to the Governor.”
Referring to the case pending in the Supreme Court, Nayak says, it concerns a “very well known RTI applicant, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who in July-August 2007, as opposition leader, wanted to know communication between the Goa Raj Bhawan and the President of India on “political developments in Goa resulted in the then State Government losing its majority.”
While the Raj Bhawan PIO rejected the application, “eventually, the matter escalated to the Goa State Information Commission (SIC) which 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”, which upheld the decision, and now the matter is pending before the Supreme Court.

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