Two years have lapsed since the present RTI appeal on the N. N. Vohra panel findings was filed. The application still seems to be going around in circles.
Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when Narendra Modi was still the chief minister of Gujarat, he had talked about cleansing politics of criminalisation and observed that though it was a difficult task, he would ensure that it is done. Three and a half years after his coming to power however, there is nothing to indicate that the proclaimed intent to end criminalisation was true – at least not in the manner the Ministry of Home Affairs has been passing around the Right to Information plea that sought details of the N.N. Vohra Committee Report, which had dealt with the issue at length.
Even while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections, Modi had raised the issue on numerous occasions. At a rally in Etah in Uttar Pradesh, he had declared that he would do away with criminalisation in politics and punish the criminals cutting across party lines.
We must remove criminalisation of politics, and merely giving lectures won’t help. I am determined that after the elections are over, whosoever is elected from any political colour, and whichever candidates have cases registered against them, they will be sorted out and a separate list will be made. And, we will ask the Supreme Court to finish off their cases within a year, and with this process, the criminalisation of politics can be cleansed. If I do not take such steps, then, this will continue.
At another public meeting in Allahabad, he had gone a step further and declared:
The next parliament would be cleaned by punishing the guilty. The vacant seats will be filled through by-elections and the same methodology will be followed to clean the assemblies of various states.
MHA under Modi too silent on Vohra panel findings
Let alone cleanse the system of politicians with a criminal past, the Modi government has been following in the footsteps of its predecessors in not even revealing any information about the Vohra panel findings that had gone into the details of the nexus between the criminals and politicians. The findings were so damning that they have remained hidden from the public eye for over two decades now.
Even though Modi was not a known name in the political circuit when the panel was formed in early 1990s – thereby one would assume he may have nothing to lose personally even if the findings were revealed – for some reason his government has, instead of choosing to come out with the report, been vigorously fending off attempts by RTI activists to extract information about it through the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Though the Vohra committee report was submitted in October 1993, the then Congress-led government at the Centre, had obtained a stay from the Supreme Court in 1996, against making its annexes public. The apex court had acceded to the demand, saying it would be “severely and detrimentally injurious” to public interest if the annexes to the report, that allegedly contained names of politicians, bureaucrats and criminals, were disclosed.
In May 2012, the Central Information Commission (CIC) had directed the MHA to provide the annexes to RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, but surprisingly the then Manmohan Singh government of the Congress, on June 27, 2012, denied the existence of any such annexure, leaving many wondering what the stay the Narasimha Rao government had obtained was all about.
A third of Lok Sabha members have criminal cases against them
Incidentally, the Vohra Committee recommendations hold a lot of value for the present day polity too, as a report by Association for Democratic Rights had revealed that while every third member of parliament in the current (16th) Lok Sabha had a criminal case against him/her. The BJP headed the list with 98 of its 282 MPs having a blemished past.
However, the situation is no better under the Modi regime. The RTI petition in the present case was filed by activist and former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi in November, 2015. Nearly two years have lapsed but the plea is still searching for its correct destination.
In his recent order, CIC Sudhir Bhargava noted that Gandhi had filed the application with the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of MHA seeking information pertaining to the N.N. Vohra report submitted around 1993. Gandhi has asked the MHA for the “total number of pages of the report including all the annexes and enclosures and a copy of the complete report.”
How the present RTI was tossed around
After 150 days he was informed by the CPIO that “the IS-II Desk of IS-I Division, MHA has no information to furnish in this regard”. He then filed a second appeal stating that if the information was not available at a particular desk, the CPIO should have sought assistance as per the provision of Section 5(4) of the RTI Act.
In the subsequent hearing, Gandhi urged the Commission that Mukesh Mangal, Director (IS-1) of MHA, who attended the proceedings, be directed to obtain the information from the CPIO concerned and furnish the same to him. But the latter submitted that the CPIO, MHA had transferred the RTI application to the Under Secretary, NSA Division on November 27, 2015, who had transferred it to him on April 13, 2016. And it was then transferred by him to Director (CS-1) on April 19, 2016, whose CPIO again transferred the application to him (Director IS-1) on April 27, 2016.
So, the application went around in circles in the ministry, as officials took cover under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act, stating that they had no information to furnish. Mangal further submitted that since the IS-II Desk of IS-I Division also had no information about the report, no information could be provided to Gandhi.
Pointing out that he was initially “not aware of the public authority to which the application could be transferred”, he however, said that “it has now been brought to his notice that the information sought could be related to DS (IS-II), IS-I Division, MHA. Hence, the RTI application has been transferred to DS(IS-II), IS-I Division for providing information to the appellant.”
Officer told to gather information and supply it
On hearing how the RTI plea has been doing the rounds of MHA offices without any relevant information being passed, CIC Bhargava recalled how the CIC has in the past held that:
Once a citizen applies to a CPIO of a public authority, irrespective of where and with whom the information is available within the same public authority, it is the duty of that CPIO to furnish the information sought for in relation to that public authority, if necessary by obtaining the same from the concerned CPIO. with whom the information sought may be available. There is no scope to either ask the citizen to approach another CPIO within the same public authority or send the request for information to another CIPO within the same public authority.
He said this view had also been reiterated by a three member bench of the commission, in the matter of Subhash Chandra Agrawal vs. Supreme Court of India.
In light of the above findings, the Commission has directed Mangal to obtain information from the concerned division of the MHA and furnish it to the appellant within a period of four weeks.