The Central Information Commission has directed the Union Home Ministry to disclose whether it had ever sought an intelligence check on the adverse communal impact of M.F. Husain's art work.
Central Information Commissioner Sushma Singh gave this ruling on Friday in response to a Right to Information appeal filed before her by Subhash Chandra Agrawal. In his original application, Mr. Agrawal had asked 18 questions to the Ministry based on a May 2006 news report in The Telegraph. The newspaper claimed that the Ministry had sought and got an IB report on the adverse communal impact of Mr. Husain's paintings and was considering prosecuting the painter under the Indian Penal Code for “outraging the religious feelings of a community.”
In his application, Mr. Agarwal also appended a letter to then Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, from painter Vivan Sundaram and seven others, expressing concern over the development. In particular, the letter-writers wanted to know if the Ministry had issued advisories to the Police Commissioners of Delhi and Mumbai, warning them of possible communal disturbances since “there was ground to believe” that certain paintings of Mr. Husain “had hurt the religious sentiments of the majority.” A similar application was also filed by V. Venkatesan of Frontline.
In identical replies to both Mr. Agarwal and Mr. Venkatesan, the Ministry maintained that intelligence information was outside the purview of the RTI Act. However, it admitted that advisories had been issued to the Police Commissioners of Delhi and Mumbai, without disclosing the contents of the advisories.
In her ruling, Ms. Singh accepted that intelligence information was exempt from the purview of the RTI Act. But there was no bar, she said, on the Ministry disclosing whether it had ordered an IB check on Mr. Husain's paintings, and, if it had, what action followed the check.