Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh State Information Commission has summoned top officials for withholding information on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra's land deal for building a cottage near this hill station
A division bench of the information commission, headed by Bhim Sen, summoned the officials, including Deputy Commissioner Dinesh Malhotra, over their failure to supply information to Right to Information (RTI) activist Devashish Bhattacharya.
Information Commissioner K.D. Batish asked the officials why, as per their reply to the commission, was Priyanka Vadra, who purchased an additional chunk of land, given additional time to register the land. She was required to get it registered within 180 days of purchasing it.
"She was given two extensions of one year each after the lapse of 180 days. This is what your reply (to the commission) says," Batish said.
RTI activist Bhattacharya questioned the role of the deputy commissioner, who is also facing penalty proceedings for withholding information, in not providing information to him.
"The extensions were given to Vadra by the deputy commissioner. In my case, he is the appellant authority. How is this possible that an official who favoured somebody by giving extensions would be willing to share that information?" Bhattacharya asked.
At this, the information commission asked the deputy commissioner to file a reply to this query by August 20, the next date of hearing.
It also asked the administration why it declined the information about Vadra's land deals to Bhattacharya when it supplied it to some RTI applicantin 2012.
Interestingly, the Himachal Pradesh High Court on July 7 put on hold a directive of the information commission to the government to provide information about the land purchase by Vadra.
A division bench comprising Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Justice P.S. Rana observed that "prima facie, the plea of the petitioner (Vadra) is acceptable".
Listing the case for next hearing on August 7, the bench said the information commission "has not interpreted rightly" Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act that speaks about the disclosure of information which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.
Vadra's counsel had challenged the information commission's June 29 order that directed the deputy commissioner to provide within 10 days details about the land purchased by Vadra.
"Provide information about Priyanka Vadra's land deal within 10 days to an RTI activist. The decision to impose penalty on the officials who failed to provide information within stipulated timeframe would be decided on July 23," the commission said.
The information under the RTI Act was sought in July 2014, but was denied by the deputy commissioner, saying Vadra was a high-profile person and providing information could have a direct bearing on her security provided by the Special Protection Group.
"It's clear that agricultural land is permitted to be purchased by a non-agriculturist for a specific purpose and a citizen has the right to know about the terms and conditions of permission and its compliance/non-compliance by the purchaser and action taken by the public authority," the commission had said.
Vadra's five-room cottage, just 15 km uphill from state capital Shimla, is coming up at a height of more than 8,000 feet.