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It’s duty of Central govt to explain how PM Lal Bahadur Shastri died: Information panel

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Information commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu says people’s right to know ‘truth’ behind Shastri’s death cannot be brushed aside citing secrecy clause.

New Delhi: The union government has “a duty” to explain why and how former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had died in Tashkent, the Central Information Commission said Monday.

According to an order issued by information commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu, “People’s right to know the ‘truth’ behind the death of Shastri cannot be brushed aside on the ground of Section 8(1)(a) en bloc.”

Section 8 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act allows withholding “information 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”.

The CIC was responding to an RTI plea filed to know if autopsy was done on Shastri who had died on 11 January, 1966, in Tashkent.

Acharyulu has also issued directives to the central public information officers of the Prime Minister’s Office, external affairs ministry and home ministry “to place all those so-called ‘classified papers’ before the prime minister and the home minister, who are recommended to consider the fundamental right to know and demand of the people… to declassify (the records) either through an expert committee or by any other process to get the mystery probed and resolved”.

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While the government has withheld information regarding Shastri’s death arguing that these documents fall under the secret category, Acharyulu has noted, “The government representatives have not come up with any justification for continuing these documents ‘secret’ for unlimited period of time.”

Further stating that even decades later, Shastri’s death continues to be shrouded in mystery, Acharyulu said, “For these doubts, serious questions, deaths and disappearance of records, the Commission directs the CPIOs of PMO, Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs to place all those so-called ‘classified papers’ before the Honourable Prime Minister and the Home Minister, who are recommended to consider the fundamental right to know and demand of the people, family members of Lal Bahadur Shastri and opinion of legendary senior journalists like late Kuldip Nayar, to declassify either through an expert Committee or by any other process to get the mystery probed and resolved.”

Acharyulu has gone on to “dedicate” the order to Nayar, Shastri’s media advisor, who maintained throughout his lifetime that all the files pertaining to his death must be made public.

He also expressed astonishment over the fact that the Rajya Sabha has not maintained any records pertaining to the Raj Narain Committee, constituted in 1977 to look into Shastri’s death.

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“Parliament is known for meticulous maintenance of documents. Every word uttered in Parliament is recorded and kept in public domain, a humongous task the office is perfectly performing. Then how such a significant record disappeared,” he said in the 44-page order.

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