New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to provide details of the foreign visits undertaken by National Advisory Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the expenses incurred on those trips.

The CIC gave its directive following the plea of one Hissar-based RTI applicant Ramesh Verma who had sought to know from the PMO, information on the foreign visits of Sonia Gandhi, the costs incurred on them, benefits and purpose of these visits.

Pulling up the PMO for "casual handling" of the RTI application in this regard, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra directed it to ensure, in future, that information seeking pleas should be sent to concerned ministries only.

"One thing is for sure that, in this case, the RTI request has been handled very casually. It was originally addressed to the CPIO of the PMO. CPIO should have taken care to find out which exact Ministry in the Central Government was concerned and should have transferred the application to that Ministry or Ministries.

"Instead, the application was forwarded from one place to another, resulting in so much delay," he said.

"It seems Parliamentary Affairs Ministry had informed that the Central government had incurred no expenditure on the foreign visits of Sonia Gandhi during the last 10 years.”

"However, the Cabinet Secretariat has no knowledge if any information has been given to the applicant in respect of her foreign visits as Chairperson of the National Advisory Council," Mishra pointed out directing to provide details.

The application received by the PMO on February 26, 2010 was transferred to External Affairs Ministry on March 16, 2010 and further forwarded to Parliamentary Affairs Ministry on March 26, 2010.

CIC seeks records of cabinet mole, Shastri death

In another case, the CIC has sought in a "sealed envelope" the records related to alleged spy of American intelligence agency CIA in the 1971 cabinet and death of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent in 1966.

In two separate RTI applications, author of "CIA's eye on South Asia" Anuj Dhar had sought to know from the government the details about alleged CIA mole in the Indira Gandhi cabinet of 1971 who, according to some reports, passed on crucial information about India-Pakistan war to the USA.

Most of the information was denied to him citing Section 8(1)(A) of the RTI Act that exempts disclosure of information which would "prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence."

During the hearing, Dhar submitted that the US government had already declassified information which had references to some sources in India leaking information about the briefings given to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the ongoing India-Pakistan war to the American snooping agency.

Taking cognisance of the fact that the information sought was 30-40 years old, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra directed Prime Minister's Office and the Cabinet Secretariat to produce records before him in sealed cover.

"Keeping in view that the information relates to a period now nearly three to four decades old, we would like to see the contents to satisfy ourselves that, indeed, the information is sensitive enough for India's security and foreign relations concerns. It is only after that it should be possible to decide, if the information should be disclosed," Mishra said in the order.

 

(Agencies)