This won't wash: CIC has directed MEA to release correspondence with Russia over Netaji
It is perhaps the most overlooked RTI related news of recent times. Your favourite newspaper did not tell you this, but last month the Central Information Commission (CIC) directed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to release copies of their correspondence with the Soviets/Russians over the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. What is more significant, and what could give the ministry the jitters, order by Information Commissioner Dr OP Kejariwal directs the Ministry to take up the matter with the Russian Government if it fears that the disclosure would harm the formidable relations between the two nations.
Dr Kejariwal passed the order after hearing out MEA officials Ajai Choudhary, Additional Secretary, AK Nag, Joint Secretary, and Anuj Dhar of Mission Netaji. Among other things, Dhar argued that in view of rampant scurrilous rumours linking all-time national greats like Pt Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr S Radhakrishnan to the Bose mystery, it would be in supreme national interest that the Ministry discloses all its records about the matter. "Not declassifying them will only aggravate such rumours," Dhar said during the hearing.
The Ministry officials had no logic to offer when they denied to Dhar the following pieces of information:
(a) Unambiguous information whether the issue of Netaji's fate or his alleged stay in the USSR was ever taken up by the MEA with the Soviets/Russians at a higher (say ministerial) level or; whether some enquiries into such a matter of national importance were made through mere note verbales, and;
(b) Certified copies of the complete correspondence in toto, covering what was asked, replies from the USSR/Russian Federation and MEA's reaction on record thereof.
In an evidently panic reaction, the Ministry refused to oblige, and stated:
(a) The information sought does not constitute an "information" as defined in the RTI Act, 2005 as it seeks anecdotal reply.
(b) The requisite copies of correspondence cannot be disclosed as it involves relations with a foreign state and is exempt as per the provisions of clause 8(10) (a)(i).
Dr Kejariwal, former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library and a reputed historian, rejected the Ministry's take at the hearing, which took place on 23 March 2007. "The Commission also saw the Respondents' reply ... where ... it also said that the information was not being disclosed as it did not fall under the category of 'information' as defined in the RTI Act as it seeks 'anecdotal' reply. The Commission could not see the applicability of this answer at all in the present case."
Anuj Dhar: Will he get the correspondence?
Dr Kejariwal then outlined his order in 3 parts:
1. The MEA will have its correspondence with USSR and Russia over Netaji's disappearance examined "by their own expert/s and if need be, by an outside expert who they can rely on and then take a firm decision".
2. In case they come to the conclusion that the disclosure of papers won't affect relations between India and Russia, the correspondence will have to be disclosed.
3. If the conclusion drawn is that the relations between India and Russia would be harmed upon disclosure of this information, the Commission would like the issue to be settled only after: i) a reference has been made to the Government of Russia; ii) the papers are shown to the Commission, which would examine the bona fide of the refusal to disclose the information.
The Ministry is to provide an answer latest by 30 June 2007. The following possibilities are likely:
1. MEA will stand by its decision to not to disclose the papers.
-- In this situation, the matter will most likely head to the court. Either the Ministry, or the CIC or Dhar, depending on the support Mission Netaji gets from people, will make the first move.
2. MEA may disclose the papers in part, given that they appear to be in tune with official Government line.
-- Mission Netaji's information is that the Ministry never tried too hard to ascertain facts from the Russians, and the Russians didn't seem to have given convincing answers. No nation in the world, least of all a former superpower, will give away its secrets upon receipt of note verbales (informal, unsigned third person notes). When you want something big, you have got to try hard - at the higher level. Like Foreign Minister of India beseechingly writing to his Soviet counterpart.
-- However, disclosure of even the incomplete correspondence will help in better understanding of the Bose case. The documents may underline the disinterested approach of the Government.