Under Section 8 (1) (a), information can be denied on grounds of national security
It is hard to imagine that any information preserved in the Karnataka State Archives on the Bababudangiri shrine in Chikmagalur could potentially threaten national security or incite a breach of the law.
However, a reply given by the Directorate, Karnataka State Archives, to a Right to Information (RTI) query suggests that it does.
In his RTI application on March 6, 2013, Firoz M. Khan, an RTI activist and litigant in a case pertaining to Bababudangiri shrine pending before the Supreme Court, sought copies of old records in the archives on the syncretic shrine atop the Bababudangiri hill.
The one-line reply received by him the next day from the Public Information Officer stated that the documents sought “cannot be provided as per Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act”.
Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act deals with various grounds on which any authority gets exemption from disclosure of information. Sub-section 8 (1) (a), in particular, states that there is no obligation to give any citizen “information, the disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence”.
Mr. Khan is befuddled with this reply. The 65-year-old told The Hindu: “The archival documents are crucial for evidence in the court case which relates to the religious nature of the shrine. I do not understand how the existing material on the shrine can pose a threat of any kind.”
The Director of the Karnataka State Archives, Kanchivaradaiah, however, said there was no motive behind the denial of information. He said he would inquire about why the Public Information Officer had cited 8 (1) (a) in reply to the RTI query.
“If the applicant gives specific details, such as the Government Order number and date, we can provide information,” Mr. Kanchivaradaiah said. “We have records on Bababudangiri starting from 1866 and it is hard to find specific records unless there are specific details,” he said.
However, Mr. Khan said he had identified the list of documents needed (350 pages) and provided details with dates. “I went there the following day with Rs. 710 I was to pay towards photocopying of the pages when I was told that I cannot be given the documents,” he said.
Some of these documents, he added, were cited in an earlier case in 2005 fought in a Chikmagalur court, which showed that they were not out of bounds to the public.
There has been a series of controversies and litigation around the Bababudangiri shrine — called Guru Dattatreya Bababudan Swami Dargah — over the last few years. The Sangh Parivar and its affiliates have taken up various campaigns and programmes to “Hinduise” the syncretic shrine that traditionally had both Muslim and Hindu devotees.