Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday stayed a Central Information Commission (CIC) order directing the Union Government to make available to it copies of all the letters exchanged between President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee regarding the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002.

Justice Anil Kumar stayed the CIC order on a petition by the Union Government saying the letters could not be made available to the Commission, as it would impinge on the national security and integrity. The Centre submitted that such information was protected under Article 74 (2) of the Constitution.

Allowing the Centre's plea, Mr. Justice Anil Kumar said: "National security and integrity must prevail upon all the rights even if they are enshrined in the Constitution."

The CIC had on August 8 directed the Centre to produce in a sealed cover the letters for perusal to decide whether or not to make them public.

The Commission had passed the order on an appeal by C. Ramesh of Vellore for a direction to the Government to disclose the contents of the correspondence.

The stand of the Government before the CIC was that the entire correspondence exchanged between Narayanan and Mr. Vajpayee being fully protected under Article 74 (2) of the Constitution was exempted from disclosure under the Right to Information (RIT) Act and the Constitution. The decision not to disclose the information was taken with utmost responsibility. The correspondence was exchanged during a critical time in a State and any disclosure of the same would result in damage to the public interest.

However, the Commission rejected the contention, quoting several decisions of the Supreme Court, and said: "It may be inferred that Article 74 (2), 78 and 361 of the Constitution does not per se entitle the public authorities to claim "privilege" from disclosure. Now, since the RTI has come into force, whatever immunity from disclosure could have been claimed by the State under the law, stands virtually extinguished, except on the ground explicitly mentioned under Section 8 and in some cases under Section 11 of RTI Act."