Make public merger agreement with Bhopal Nawab: CIC to MHA

New Delhi: The Central Information Commission has directed the Centre to disclose the copy of "merger agreement" executed between the then Nawab of Bhopal and Government of India in 1949 and the list of his properties as mentioned in the document.

Rejecting the arguments of Home Ministry that it was a personal information, a full bench of the Commission felt that since the records were more than 20-years-old they cannot be exempted from disclosure under the transparency law.

The case relates to an RTI application filed by one Z U Alvi seeking copy of the letter dated August 15, 1955 from Nawab Hamidullah Khan of Bhopal to Govind Ballabh Pant, along with enclosures and another letter dated written in 1956 with enclosures like gift deed of "Riaz Manzil" by Nawab of Bhopal to his wife Aftab Jahan Begum.

The Commission found that Supreme Court's 11-judge bench in its decision in Madhav Rao Jivaji Rao Scindia Bahadur of Gwalior versus Government of India has quoted extensively from the agreement that Nawab Hamidullah Khan entered with the Centre in 1949.

"This leaves us without even an iota of doubt to infer that the Apex Court had the material before it on the basis of which it made those observations notwithstanding the fact that the case before them was not specifically pertaining to the state of Bhopal.

" leaves no doubt that the contents of Bhopal Merger Agreement and the enclosures thereto are public documents. Hence, in the spirit of the RTI Act, such documents should also be furnished to the Appellant," it held.

The bench of transparency panel comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners Shailesh Gandhi and Sushma Singh also rejected Home Ministry's contention that private properties of former rulers of princely states are not to be disclosed to the public being unpublished document.

The Ministry had also shown a Lok Sabha reply given by the then Home Minister Y B Chavan in 1967 stating that details of the property recognised as the private property of the ruler should not be a matter for public disclosure.

The Commission also rejected this argument citing a communication from Lok Sabha secretariat which said the reply pertained only to properties of rulers of Indore and Gwalior.

"Procure the documents from the National Archives by giving them the proper reference number to identify the document numbered by them, if they do not have the custody of documents at present, and supply the same to the Applicant.

"In case, the efforts to trace the records and documents bear no fruit, the Ministry of Home Affairs will file an affidavit for the perusal of the Commission regarding the efforts made along with the instructions issued to trace the records," the Commission directed.