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Modi government follows UPA footsteps; refuses to disclose Netaji files

NEW DELHI(PTI): Taking the line adopted by the previous Congress-led UPA government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Office has refused to disclose records related to Subhash Chandra Bose’s death as it rejected the argument that there was a larger public interest involved in making them public.

The Right to Information Act allows for a public authority to disclose records which are otherwise exempt from disclosure if public interest outweighs the harm protected. Activist Subhash Agrawal had sought from the Prime Minister’s Office the records related to the freedom fighter and leader of the Indian National Army to clarify the mystery surrounding his alleged death in a plane crash 70 years back.

Agrawal had also asked for information of the steps taken by the top office to make such records public and the action taken on requests seeking such documents. But toeing the line of the UPA government, the PMO had cited an exemption clause in the RTI Act which allows withholding of information that could prejudicially affect relations with a foreign country. The PMO, however, did not even give the names of the countries with which the relations may get affected once the said information is made public.

When the first appeal was filed before a higher officer in the top office, the Appellate Authority, Krishan Kumar, had rejected the argument that public interest would be served through the disclosure of the documents related to Bose’s death.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while campaigning for polls, had claimed that there was a larger public interest involved in the disclosure of the documents, but the PMO under Modi does not seem to be in agreement.

“It is observed that the disclosure of the records was withheld under Section 8(1)(a) of RTI Act on the grounds that it would prejudicially affect relations with foreign countries. The determination as to whether a particular body of records has such ramifications has been left to the judgement of the competent authority authorised to determine the same,” Kumar had said.

Citing a favourable order from the CIC allowing it to withhold information related to Bose, the PMO said that its stand to continue to withhold the information “is in order in so far as it is consistent with the extant CIC rulings in the matter”.

“In line with the above status of the matter, information as per point number 4 (information on action taken for making public files related to Subhash Chandra Bose) may not be a valid proposition,” Kumar said.

“Based on the reasons given above, no further action is called for on your appeal and the same is accordingly disposed of,” he said. The PMO had recently accepted that there were 41 files related to Bose, of which two have been declassified, but refused to disclose them taking a position similar to that of the UPA government.

When Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister, family members of Bose had sought his help for the declassification of all secret files concerning the iconic leader.

“Netaji belonged to the entire nation, so we extend our appeal to you for your kind support in demanding from the Prime Minister that the Central Government release in public domain all records to help unravel the mystery about his fate and bring a closure to the issue,” read the letter to Modi.

Demanding declassification of the secret files concerning Netaji’s death, his grand-nephew and family spokesperson, Chandra Bose, had met Modi during his visit to Kolkata in 2013.

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