Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Navin Chawla has asked the President’s Secretariat not to disclose to an RTI applicant the letter written by the then CEC, N. Gopalaswami, to the President questioning the propriety of his (Mr. Chawla) continuing as Election Commissioner.
The President’s Secretariat (RTI Section) has informed this in a communication to S.C. Agarwal. It said the CEC (Mr. Chawla) “is of the considered view that the letter/report sent by Mr. Gopalaswami to the President may not be disclosed to the applicant under the RTI Act.”
During January last year, Mr. Gopalaswami suo motu sent a recommendation to the President that Mr. Chawla be removed from office on the alleged ground of ‘partisanship’. His action raised eyebrows within the government for its timing as well as its departure from well-settled readings of the relevant constitutional provisions.
However, this recommendation was turned down by the President and Mr. Chawla continued as Commissioner and subsequently became CEC.
Mr. Agarwal sought a copy of the letter from the President’s Secretariat, and when it refused to disclose the matter, moved the Central Information Commissioner.
In its reply, the CPIO, President’s Secretariat, said taking into consideration the relevant material, views expressed by Mr. Chawla and the statutory requirement under the RTI Act, the information “does not merit disclosure.”
Earlier, the President’s Secretariat said the disclosure of the letter “would be an invasion of privacy.”
Then Mr. Agarwal approached the Chief Information Commissioner, who ordered: “The information sought is with regard to correspondence between the then CEC and the President of India regarding a third party. There is no doubt that the information sought is third party and held in confidence by the President. This is, therefore, clearly third party information qualifying for the protection allowed by the Act as such. Before any decision is taken to disclose the same therefore, CPIO will refer the matter to the third party Shri. Chawla to obtain his opinion on the disclosability of this information.”
Mr. Agarwal has now filed a fresh appeal to the Appellate Authority in the President’s Secretariat seeking the copy of Mr. Gopalaswami’s letter.
He also sought the copy of Mr. Chawla’s letter asking the President’s Secretariat not to disclose Mr. Gopalaswami’s letter.