RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya will now seek a Supreme Court probe in the matter.
New Delhi: Right to Information activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya – whose application to place some documents on record in the matter of a land deal involving Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s daughter, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at Charabara in Himachal Pradesh was dismissed by the High Court on Thursday – has questioned how the court’s order was apparently released by its public relations officer late on July 27 evening, even before it had been formally pronounced.
“The Priyanka Gandhi land deal matter was in the cause list as CMP no. 2987 of 2016 for July 28, 2016 in court no. 4 as item no. 509 in the Himachal Pradesh High Court,” he said. On July 28, the matter was duly heard by the court and the judge dismissed Bhattacharya’s plea.
He said later on July 28, his advocate, Vikrant Thakur forwarded him a mail at 5.19 pm enclosing a copy of the judge’s order dated July 28, 2016. However, Bhattacharya said, he realised that this mail was forwarded to Thakur by a media organisation on July 28 at 4-56 pm. and that the mail had been sent to a large number of journalists and others by the “public relations officer of the HP High Court at 10-26 p.m. on July 27 – several hours before the court actually dismissed the plea.”
Wondering how it was possible that an order which was delivered on July 28 could apparently be released to the press a day earlier on July 27 by the PRO, Bhattacharya said the matter must be probed.
In response to an e-mail sent by The Wire in connection with Bhattacharya’s allegations, the PRO of the Himachal Pradesh high court said ” the matter in question is in active consideration and soon you will be intimated accordingly.”
The petitioner’s “allegations are all bogus”, he added. “We have referred the matter to CMIS (Case Management Information System), which looks after our systems, as there appears to have been some technical error,” the PRO said, promising to provide further details once the court reopens after the weekend.
While demanding a probe, Bhattacharya, hinted at political influence being the reason behind this anomaly. “It is because a very big leader of the Congress is involved in this and the land that she has purchased in Himachal Pradesh is in complete violation of Section 118 of the HP Land and Tenancy Act under which outsiders cannot purchase any piece of land in Himachal Pradesh without fulfilling certain conditions mentioned in the Act,” he said
Bhattacharya said he had sought the file notings of Priyanka Gandhi’s approvals. “When the government gives the approval, then its action falls under the purview of the RTI Act. Priyanka has purchased three pieces of land. The SDM allowed me the approvals. The Deputy Commissioner (Shimla) disallowed these saying if the file notings are given to you then her life and privacy will be endangered because she is a Special Protection Group protectee. Then I moved the full bench of the Information Commission which gave me the permission to have the information.”
But then, the activist said, Priyanka Gandhi moved the Himachal Pradesh high court “and the same judge in whose court this order was delivered yesterday granted the stay on the operation of the Information Commission order.”
Not one to give up, Bhattacharya said, “I then filed an RTI application in Delhi pertaining to the residences of Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. There the file notings were given to me. One of the notings had revealed that Priyanka Gandhi had pleaded that “it was beyond her capacity to pay the high amount” of rent being sought for her 35 Lodhi Estate residence. I then collected all this information and took it to the High Court to ask why, when this information could be given in Delhi, it could not be provided in Himachal Pradesh.”
Based on the time stamp of the PRO’s email, Bhattacharya said he would be filing a complaint with the chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh high court “and also marking a copy of the Chief Justice of India to get the matter probed.”