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Committee to decide on disclosure of 1962-63 Indo-Pak records

CIC has directed Government to constitute a high-level committee to decide on declassifying "top secret" records of talks held 47 years back between Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.



New Delhi: The CIC has directed the
Government to constitute a high-level committee to decide on
declassifying "top secret" records of talks held 47 years back
between Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and his Pakistani
counterpart Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the wake of the India-China
war.

The Central Information Commission said the committee
should comprise secretaries from Foreign, Defence and Home
departments.
The decision comes after a full-bench of the CIC
perused all the eight "top Secret" files related to six rounds
of talks between Singh and Bhutto during 1962-63.

On an RTI application by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar,
the CIC noted that the the decision to withhold information
relating to the talks was taken by a joint secretary without
making any reference to the Foreign Secretary.

"A Committee comprising the Foreign Secretary, the
Defence Secretary and the Home Secretary be constituted to
address and finally decide as to whether the information in
the instant case can actually be disseminated at present fully
or partially after the passage of more than three decades of
the incident," the Bench directed exercising powers vested to
it under the transparency law.

Nayar had sought these documents from the MEA but his
request was rejected by the ministry citing exemption clauses
of the RTI Act. The Bench had in March this year asked the
ministry to produce these files for perusal.

In its order, the Commission said the committee should
consider contention put forth by Nayar that Pakistan was
willing to disclose this information but not to any Indian
national as there is no such agreement between the two
countries.
"It will be open to the Committee to examine this
information on the principle of severability, thus severing
such information as would in their view be exempt from
disclosure...MEA will then take a decision on declassification
within two months," the Bench comprising Chief Information
Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Information Commissioners
Annapurna Dixit and Satyananda Mishra said.

The Commission asked the Ministry to revisit its
declassification policy with respect to information existing
in the form of old documents, particularly relating to events
that took place more than 20 years ago.

The Right to Information Act allows disclosure of
information which is more than two decade old if it does not
attract three exemption clauses -- related to sovereignty and
integrity of India and other interests of the State, breach of
privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature and Cabinet
papers including records of deliberations of the Council of
Ministers, Secretaries and other officers.

The panel directed the MEA to consider "Automatic,
Systematic and Mandatory declassification Review" policy of
the UK and the US while deciding on the issue with respect to
old documents of "historical and international significance".

"The MEA will also have to decide as to whether the
policy of withholding the information can be applicable in
eternity," the Commission said.

The panel, however, asked the ministry to consider,
while declassifying the records, whether they carried the
potential of adversely affecting relations with a foreign
state.

The Commission directed the MEA "to arrive at a
decision regarding the identification/declassification of such
sensitive and old data, documents of historic, political and
academic significance in the Ministry of External Affairs to
be handled based on a conceptual declassification policy at
the level of not less than Foreign Secretary."

PTI

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