India

JK accession files: Butcher papers exposed in ‘national interest’, CIC sees

By PTI

New Delhi: Disclosure of files about Jammu and Kashmir relating to the period 1947-49, provided by India’s second Chief of Army Staff General Sir Roy Butcher to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, which may shed light on the accession, “National interest”. The Central Information Commission has said in an order.

The Commission stayed on the orders of the Ministry of External Affairs from ordering the disclosure of these important documents withheld from the public.

Information Commissioner Uday Mahurkar has instead asked the NMML’s Central Public Information Officer to “take up the matter with higher authorities” and “secure necessary permissions” before sharing the information with RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak.

The CIC, the highest adjudicating authority on RTI matters, did not specify whether the information could be disclosed if “higher authorities” objected.

RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak had sought documents from NMML under the Transparency Act, but it was rejected without citing any exemption clause in the RTI Act.

“Having regard to the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties, the Commission is of the view that the object of the appellant (is) is in the national interest.

The Commission, therefore, directs the CPIO to take up the matter with the higher authorities of the responding authority and refer to this order of the Commission and obtain necessary permission from them before sharing the information with the appellant.

Nayak while researching the accession of Jammu and Kashmir, a few decades after his retirement in 1949, stumbled upon an interview of Butcher to renowned biographer BR Nanda.

“He (Nayak) said that the means of accession were operated by the then Second Army Chief and there are some documents attached to him which have not yet been revealed to the public, but which throw light on the truth of the accession,” Mahurkar mentioned in his order.

Nayak said that in the interview Butcher had made several references to files and papers relating to Jammu and Kashmir affairs for the period 1947-49, which were compiled by him and given to the NMML.

General Sir Francis Robert Roy Butcher served as the second Chief of the Indian Army from 1 January 1948 to 15 January 1949.

Nayak said he had pressed for wider public interest in the disclosure of information as October 2021 would mark the 75th anniversary year of the signing of the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh, but Information Commissioner Uday Mahurkar in his “national interest”. used the word. count.

He said that the NMML has kept these documents closed from public scrutiny even after 70 years on the instructions of the Ministry of External Affairs.

He used the Right to Information Act to inspect files and records submitted by Butcher to the NMML, such as the list of documents kept by the prestigious library that are closed to the public.

The NMML showed sufficient urgency to provide details of the documents that are closed to the public, but said it could not share Butcher’s papers as they were withheld on the instructions of the Ministry of External Affairs.

A record can be withheld under the RTI Act if it falls under any of the exemption clauses listed under the Act, but the NMML has refused to share the details under any of the clauses provided under section 8 or 9 of the Act. Not cited, said Nayak.

In his appeal before the Commission, Nayak said that it is the statutory duty of the CPIO to invoke the third party process under Section 11 of the RTI Act from the CPIO, Ministry of External Affairs, so as to ascertain their views regarding the disclosure of Sir. can be imposed. Roy Butcher Papers.

By not doing so, both the CPIO and the FAA are neglecting their duties under the RTI Act, he said.

Access to the papers submitted to the NMML by General Sir Roy Butcher will be of great importance to counter the controversy that has been created regarding the actual date of signing of the Instrument of Accession and its acceptance, Nayak said in his argument. . Commission.

He said that the above dates are October 26 and 27, 1947 respectively.

Activists also relied on the institution of the declassification policy of official records by the government for the purpose of compiling a history of warfare and operations by the Ministry of Defense, which was placed in the public domain on June 12, 2021.

He said, “In view of the said policy of the Government of India, regarding declassification and archiving of records relating to the war history of India, this appellant is of the view that the information sought is fully within its scope and purpose. comes,” he said.

Information Commissioner Mahurkar said in his order that the NMML CPIO has stated that despite the policy decision of the Central Government, they have no official information from the government to disclose this information.

“The respondent (NMML) further submitted before the Commission that the PIO has rightly said that unless the Government directs NMML to make the said information public, they cannot do so.

The appellant, however, stood by his position that the information should be disclosed under the RTI Act in the larger national interest, which is above all else,” Mahurkar said.

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