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26/11 Ashok Kamte assasination: Has information commission exceeded its brief?

Sunday, 3 August 2014 - 5:53am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The State Chief Information Commission (SCIC) recently directed the govt to set up a commission headed by a judge to probe charges of tampering with call records of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.

The directive followed Vinita Kamte moving a second appeal over discrepancy in over two sets of the same call log records pertaining to the terror attack, in which her husband, additional commissioner of police Ashok Kamte, was killed. While the govt may feel Ratnakar Gaikwad, the Maharashtra state chief information commission (SCIC), had exceeded his brief, opinion among those in the know is split: some feel SCIC exceeded its brief, some others feel it has not!

How was Ashok Kamte killed?

Ashok Kamte was killed by terrorists in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack along with ATS chief Hemant Karkare and Vijay Salaskar. Vinita Kamte on March 4, 2009, invoking RTI Act, filed an application to procure call log records of two days—2008 Nov 26 and 27—to find out what had led to their deaths. She had not got proper answers from Mumbai police and the home ministry in thi9s regard, she said.

Ratnakar Gaikwad's stance

Gaikwad said he had ordered the judicial inquiry because the applicant wanted correct information and not imposition of fine or pulling up of an officer.

What activists say

* "He should have conducted an inquiry on his own instead of asking for a judicial inquiry. RTI Act allows that. Also, the order he has passed is on a complaint and not on a second appeal. The commissioner should have fined the officer for giving false information and ordered disciplinary action", Vijay Kumbhar, a Pune-based RTI activist.

* "I feel he has exceeded his jurisdiction. He should have remained within the purview of the RTI Act. His order went ultra vires. He cannot give an order to appoint a commission. Moreover, the judicial inquiry cannot proceed unless it gets the sanction of both houses of the legislature", SK Nangia.

Some beg to differ!

Some activists however felt the commissioner had passed the order as per the RTI Act.

* "It's not that the order was pronounced randomly. At the end of the day, it's the information provided that is at variance with each other. If it's about information, the Act can be invoked to give directives" – Bhaskar Prabhu.
* "As per the Inquiry of Commission Act, only the legislature or parliament can order a judicial inquiry. However, the courts too have been increasingly ordering judicial inquiry. If the state feels the commission has gone beyond its ambit just because of what the Inquiry of Commission Act says, court orders should also be seen in the same light. But as per RTI Act, I think SCIC has the right to call for an inquiry" –Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner.

Powers of information commission

Are spread across 3 sections in RTI Act: 18, 19 and 20. However, the inquiry part is mostly dealt with under section 18 (2) and 19 (8). Section 18 (2) states: Where the Central Information Commission/State Information Commission is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to inquire into a matter, it may initiate an inquiry in respect thereof.
Section 19 (8): In its decision, the Central Information Commission/State Information Commission has the power to: (a) require the public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this Act....

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