The Gujarat Information Commission (GIC), the state watchdog for right to information (RTI), has told the legal department of the Government of Gujarat must not lie, but admit, without mincing words, that a crucial report containing inquiry into 14 cases of corruption against the erstwhile Narendra Modi administration, is lying with it.
The order is based on a legal department government resolution (GR) dated August 16, 2011, which had, “in the public interest, people in Gujarat must know whether there is any substance in the allegations, particularly at the time when a strong public opinion is building across the country against corruption in public life.”
Modi set up the inquiry commission in August 2011 following Congress allegations, listing 14 corruption charges under Modi government, valuing above Rs 1 lakh crore, only to declare that “nothing has been found” against it. However, neither the administration under him, nor his successors, have made the report public.
The two-page closely-typed GIC order, signed by information commissioner RR Varsani, comes following the refusal of the legal department – prepared by Justice (retired) MB Shah – to admit that it had the report, allegedly to evade demands to make it public under RTI.
Seeking disclosure of the report under RTI for the last four years, former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta, 80, told Counterview that he and his supporters must have made at least 100 RTI applications to get the MB Shah Commission report submitted to the Gujarat government in 2014.
“Let alone the report, for four long years they have even refused to reveal which department has got it”, Mehta said. It is well known that in 2012, a day after of the announcement of code of conduct for the December assembly polls, Cabinet spokesperson Jay Narayan Vyas told the media that the report had been “submitted” and there is no iota of truth in what the Congress had alleged.
“Ever since then, I tried to get the report, but I would get strange answers: The legal department would tell me the report is with the general administration department (GAD), while the GAD would tell me it was the property of the legal department”, he said.
He added, “Worse, speaking inside the assembly, then No 2 in the Cabinet, Anandiben Patel, had said the MB Shah commission report was with the governor, while an RTI plea with the Raj Bhawan said it didn't have it.”
Mehta made his last plea on October 29, 2014, when, again, the legal department said it “did not have” the report, forwarding the application to the GAD, which looks after personnel issues. In his appeal to the legal department's public authority on November 7, 2014, Mehta was again told that it didn't have the report, and that it is “lying with the GAD.”
This made the ex-chief minister approach the Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) on April 6, 2015. Nearly one-and-a-half years later, on September 6, 2016, the GIC called for a hearing on Mehta's application in the presence of the public information officer, legal department, who again repeated that the report was not with it.
The GIC order asked the legal department to just authenticate the matter “in 20 days”. Mehta told Counterview, “Even after 20 days, the legal department has not approached me to tell me that it has got the report.”
During the arguments at GIC, Mehta argued that it is “wrong to say the Shah Commission report belongs to the GAD” hence it could not give it. Referring to a GAD reply to the RTI application moved by a senior activist, Pankti Jog, dated November 6, 2012, which said that the Shah Commission report wuld have to be placed in the state assembly within six months after its “final report” is submitted, Mehta said, the final report was submitted on November 6, 2013.
While nearly three years have passed for the report to be placed in the assembly, Mehta said during the argument, as quoted by the GIC order dated September 9, 2016, that “there is no such provision in law that the report would be made public only after it is placed in the Gujarat state assembly.”