Navy chief urged to re-look denial of information to sacked officer

August 5th, 2008 - 9:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 5(IANS) India’s RTI head Wajahat Habibullah has asked the naval chief to re-examine his decision denying the plea of an officer sacked for leaking secrets to furnish him the reasons for the action. The ruling came on a plea by sacked navy Commander Vijender Rana, arrested for his role in the Naval War Room leak case, who had sought a copy of the enquiry report against him.

“The Chief of the Naval Staff will re-examine the disclosure of the recommendations of Board of Inquiry contained in Page 193, a copy of which will, if so agreed, be provided to appellant Vijendra Rana within ten working days of the date of receipt of this Decision Notice,” the CIC held in his decision August 4.

The naval headquarters had declined to provide the report citing national security.

Rana had thereafter approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) from the Tihar Jail here where he is lodged.

Habibullah had visited Tihar jail July 16 to hear Rana’s plea.

After this meeting, the CIC had decided to inspect the board of inquiry report to ascertain whether its disclosure to Rana was reasonable or not. It had asked defence ministry officials to bring the file to the CIC’s office July 28 for inspection.

“The Chief of Naval Staff shall be free to take a decision regarding any other portions of the Board of Inquiry proceedings that he feels can be disclosed to Vijendra Rana in light of the exemption u/s 8(1)(a) and provide him copies of the same, or at any rate, a letter of refusal also to be served,” Habibullah stated in his decision.

Defence ministry officials told the CIC at the July 28 meeting that disclosure of the enquiry proceedings would “reveal the modus operandi of the entities inimical to the nation’s security interests and will identify the agencies handling different subjects”.

“The full documents concerning the Board of Inquiry proceedings with supplements were submitted for our inspection,” Habibullah noted in his decision.

“These contain information on the circumstances leading to the breach of information security and the manner in which security was so grievously compromised. In the view of respondents, disclosure of these documents would enable future hostile elements to the ideas of how they may access any information sought,” the CIC added.

Rana, who has been jailed under the Official Secrets Act, is one of the five accused in a case relating to the leak of classified information from the Naval War Room here.

Besides Rana, the other accused are Ravi Shankaran, a relative of former Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash; retired naval Commander Kulbhushan Parashar and sacked naval Commander V.K. Jha, as also retired Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander S.L. Surve.

An Interpol Red Corner lookout notice has been issued against Shankaran, who has been declared a proclaimed offender.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has already filed a charge sheet against the five accused.

According to the CBI, the accused had leaked 7,000 pages of classified defence information that had a direct bearing on national security.

The CBI registered the case March 20, 2006, on a reference from the defence ministry and after scrutiny of the inquiry held by the IAF against Surve and the board of inquiry conducted by the Indian Navy.

The CBI claimed in its 250-page charge sheet that the accused entered into a criminal conspiracy for obtaining and collecting information related to defence matters that was calculated to be or might be or was intended to be useful to the enemy or which related to a matter the disclosure of which, to unauthorised persons, was prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India and the security of the state.

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