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MEA Evades RTI Questions Despite CIC Order

Afroz Alam Sahil and M. Reyaz, BeyondHeadlines

New Delhi: In an attempt to evade the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to provide details of all correspondence exchanged between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) regarding the Bhopal gas catastrophe, the MEA once again did not supply the information sought and only provided the details of the case proceedings.

BeyondHeadlines had requested the MEA to provide copies of all correspondence exchanged between the ministry and the CBI on the controversial case relating to the Bhopal gas tragedy under the Right to information Act (RTI).

The MEA on two earlier occasions had denied giving the information citing reasons under Section 7(9) of the RTI Act 2005 that information was not “readily available with the ministry” and “compiling of the information would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority.”

The chief public information officer (CPIO) of the MEA further argued that “furnishing any information in this regard could impede the process of extradition and hence, denied divulging of any information under provisions of the Section 8 (1) (a) and (h) of the RTI Act 2005.”

The CIC had, however, argued that “matter sub judice is not ground enough for denying information about the matter.”

It had further observed: “The information sought relates to one of the world’s worst industrial catastrophes resulting in death, disability and maiming of thousands of people all over Bhopal. Therefore, the information is of significance to the general public, especially the families of the victims who have been awaiting justice since over last two decades.”

On December 2-3, 1984, at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal a leak of Methyl Isocyanate gas and other chemicals from the plant resulted in the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people. Warren Anderson was the chairman of the company.

While the government report says that the death toll stands at about 3,787, estimates by rights’ groups put it to about 8,000 and more. A government affidavit in 2006 stated that so far, a total of 5,58,125 people suffered injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.

Although Anderson was arrested on December 7, 1984, within days he was granted bail after signing a bond and assurance of appearing before the police and the court during investigation. He, however, has since been ‘missing.’

Information Commissioner Annapurna Dixit had hence directed the MEA to “provide all the Information as are available with them in their official records relating to the matter, and as sought by the Complainant, by or within the 10th of June 2011.”

However, what the MEA has provided though is only copies of the court proceedings and affidavits submitted by the CBI.

BH had also sought records of all correspondence between the MEA and all other government departments concerned, including the Madhya Pradesh Government.

A letter dated August 13, 2010, and endorsed by Debraj Pradhan, CPIO at the MEA, had said, “Requisite information will be communicated to you as and when received.”

However, after the CIC rebuttal to the MEA, the latest letter (June 8, 2011) by the same person says, “relevant information” with regard to the above mentioned questions “have already been provided.”

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