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Modi govt denies info under RTI on sacking of ex-foreign secretary Sujatha Singh

Sujatha Singh
By Our Representative
Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, has refused to part with information sought under right to information (RTI) Act about the reasons behind sacking of ex-foreign secretary Sujatha Singh early this year. Revealing this, well-known RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak said, “After the unceremonious exit of Singh, I filed an RTI application asking for the Cabinet note, file notings and list of persons who attended the meeting of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).”
Singh was sacked on January 29, 2015, because Prime Minister Narendra Modi was reportedly unhappy with the Ministry of External Affairs, more particularly Singh, who "refused" to keep pace with Modi’s “bigger interests”. The view had gone strong that Singh and the PMO “diverged” on several issues and she was not making “necessary course corrections”.
Filed with the Department of Personnel and Training, which had unloaded the order of “retirement” of the erstwhile foreign secretary and the appointment of the new one on its website, the RTI plea was transferred to the Cabinet Secretariat, which first refused to respond even after 50 days.
This made Nayak, who is Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Delhi, to file his first appeal seeking explanation for the reason for delay.
“Now the Cabinet Secretariat has denied access to the Cabinet note and the list of people who attended the ACC meeting as well as all related file notings”, and instead given him “explanation” of recorded facts about the exit of the foreign secretary and the appointment of the new one, Nayak says.
Comments Nayak, “It is obvious that they do not want to officially reveal the true story behind the unceremonious exit of the last foreign secretary”, adding, the public information officer (PIO) has claimed that “access to ACC minutes under RTI is sub-judice at the Delhi High Court.”
Saying that this is “completely misplaced”, Nayak said, “None of the Delhi HC judgements/orders I cited in my RTI application have been stayed till date”, adding, “Further, the PIOs' contention that the matter is sub judice is not a valid ground for denying access to information under the RTI Act.”
Nayak believes, “The issue of ACC minutes is not just an administrative matter. The appointment of officers or their voluntary retirement is undeniably matters of public interest. They perform public duties and are paid salaries drawn from the taxes contributed by citizens.”
Pointing out that the Foreign Secretary “represents India at so many international fora and takes so many decisions about foreign policy to ensure that India's interests are protected and promoted”, Nayak says, “They may be officially designated as secretary to the Government of India, but they are essentially public servants.”
“Citizens have the right to know the complete details about their appointments and retirements, especially when they result in controversies”, Nayak says, adding, “People have the right to know the details of the circumstances of their appointment and exit. Yet, the Cabinet Secretariat believes in secrecy.”
“They do not seem to be interested in practising the promise of increased transparency in government that the Prime Minister has made time and again to the citizenry. Is this another case of the political executive not being able to rein in the bureaucracy in recent times?”, asks Nayak.

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