Land Acquisition Ordinance – a secret?

NEW DELHI: Almost two years after the Narendra Modi government promulgated the controversial Land Acquisition Ordinance, the rural development ministry is still stonewalling information under Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The ministry had been directed by Central Information Commission (CIC), the final appellate authority for the transparency legislation, in June to divulge Cabinet note, file notings and all government communication on the Land Acquisition Ordinance. However, the ministry has now filed a review petition before CIC on the ground that information is classified as “secret”.

The ministry has taken the plea that information regarding Ordinance is exempted under Section 8 (1) (c) and Section 8 (1) (i) of the Act. Section 8 lists out exemptions from disclosure of information.

The review petition says, “… the issue relating to disclosure of information was taken up with the public authority who have stated that information that were not provided to the appellants is classified as ‘secret’ and also under consideration in Parliament…” Section 8 (1) (c) exempts any information which could cause a breach of Parliament or state legislation and Section 8 (1) (i) exempts Cabinet papers of decisions that are not complete.

Activist Venkatesh Nayak and journalist Chitrangada Choudhury had sought information under RTI Act on events leading up to promulgation of Ordinance on December 31, 2014. The RTI applications were transferred within the government multiple times.

Nayak had filed his RTI application in President’s Secretariat as the President had signed on the Ordinance. The application was transferred to department of land resources which said it held no information and transferred it to legislative department and back to the President’s Secretariat.

The legislative department said in its RTI reply that department of land resources holds the information.

Following this, CIC, which had clubbed all appeals, directed the department of land resources to disclose the requisite information. RTI applicants are protesting against the review petition on the ground that Ordinance has lapsed and there is no reason why the government should be hiding documents pertaining to it.

Nayak told media, “The department has claimed applicability of Section 8(1)(c) and 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act to the information sought. It is not clear how this is possible as we have not asked for Cabinet Notes relating to the Bill pending in Parliament. We have asked for the Cabinet Note relating to the Ordinance which has since lapsed. So clearly, the matter is complete and over. There is no ground for applicability of exemption clauses.”

Credits ET Realty

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