Friday, March 07, 2008

Sethusamudram Affidavit: Partial Response to my application under RTI

I have earlier posted on the non-compliance with the Appellate Authority's direction to the Central Principal Information Officer, ASI, New Delhi to furnish the required information to me under RTI with regard to the suspension of two officials by the ASI in connection with the filing of affidavit in the Supreme Court in the Sethusamudram case.

I have now received a partial response from the CPIO(HQ), ASI, New Delhi, to my questions under the RTI. I have received copies of the suspension orders of Mr.Chandrashekhar, Director (Administration) and Mr.V.Bakshi, Assistant Director, as well as a copy of the Secretary (Culture)'s letter directing the Director General, ASI that an enquiry be held in respect of these officers.

What the ASI/Culture Ministry is still reluctant to share is the copy of the enquiry report submitted by Mrs.Anshu Vaish, Director General, ASI. While I may have to complain to the Central Information Commission (it cannot be an appeal, as the Appellate Authority's direction favours me) regarding the partial/belated compliance by the CPIO with the AA's direction, I find the procedure laid down in the RTI Rules daunting to say the least. I have 90 days from the AA's decision to file the complaint, but the complaint needs to be elaborate, in the form of an affidavit, and a copy of this must be served on the CPIO, ASI. I feel discouraged in going ahead with the complaint, given the time-consuming procedural requirement. I fail to understand why the AA himself should not be empowered under the Act to impose a suitable punishment on the CPIO for non-compliance with his direction. When I sought to draw this blatant non-compliance by the CPIO to the AA, the latter replied to me to follow the remedial procedure prescribed under the Act!

That apart, the partial response is significant for what it reveals. The letter written by Badal K.Das, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, to Mrs.Anshu Vaish, DG, ASI on 13th September, 2007 reveals that before filing the affidavit in this case, the ASI had submitted a draft affidavit prepared by the ASG to the Government for approval. The Government had approved the same with appropriate changes/corrections. "Surprisingly, some of these important changes/corrections approved by the Government were not incorporated in the affidavit filed by the ASI in the Supreme Court. The Government has taken a very serious view of this matter", so goes the letter. The Secretary, therefore, requested the ASI's DG to enquire into this "lapse" immediately and submit a detailed report to the Government fixing responsibility for this lapse. A report, the letter says, should be submitted to the Government by 14th September, 2007, when the case was listed to come up for hearing in the Supreme Court.

Even as this applicant under RTI has so far been denied the privilege of reading this enquiry report, so hastily prepared by the DG, ASI, the Secretary's letter reveals that it was the ASG who prepared the draft affidavit, carrying the controversial paragraph 20 which led to a huge furore. The officials are guilty only in so far as not carrying out the corrections suggested by the Government. Did the Government seek to correct paragraph 20? It is not clear from this correspondence. It is also not clear whether the ASG was shown the corrections on his draft affidavit, as suggested by the Government, and whether the final affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court had the ASG's approval.

The suspension order against Chandra Shekhar mentions the circumstance in which the order of suspension has been made:

"Serious negligence and dereliction of duty resulting in considerable loss to the Government".

(one wonders what was the loss - was it loss of face?)
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