Where are Shastri death-related Raj Narain Committee records, asks CIC
(Sourced from PTI)
Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Prime Minister's Office and Ministries of External Affairs and Home to make public the records of Raj Narain Committee, constituted in 1977 to look into the then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri's mysterious death on January 11, 1966, in Uzbekistan's Tashkent. Janata Party government reportedly constituted the Committee. The records related to the Committee are untraceable, CIC noted.
The Raj Narain Committee was constituted to look into the circumstances surrounding the death of Shastri. He had died hours after signing a declaration with Pakistan President Muhammad Ayub Khan post-1965 Indo-Pak war. Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu also directed the PMO, MEA, and MHA to publish the statement of categories of documents regarding the death of the Second Indian Prime Minister available with them.
"The public authorities (PMO, MHA, MEA) have a constitutional duty to inform and the people have legitimate expectation to know the truth behind the death of their beloved leader," Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu. "More so, it is the primary responsibility of the PMO to inform the people what happened to late Lal Bahadur Shastri, who once was its head," he said.
Acharyulu's directive came on an RTI application seeking to know from the Home Ministry whether Shastri's body was brought to India for cremation or he was cremated in the then USSR and also a copy of the post-mortem. Shastri died in Tashkent where he had gone for talks with the Pakistan President moderated by Soviet premier Premier Alexei Kosygin.
Although Shastri reportedly died from a massive heart attack, questions were raised on the circumstances of his death on foreign soil when the cold war was at its peak. The conspiracy theories were further fuelled after the central government started denying documents, under the RTI Act, related to his death calling them secret and disclosure prejudicial to the interests of the country.
Home Ministry transferred the present application of Navdeep Gupta to National Archives of India (NAI). During the hearing, Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) representing the NAI, told the Commission the information maybe with MEA, Indian Embassy in Russia, MHA or some other authority. "Except information of some news clippings they do not have any authentic document on Late PM's death or post-mortem," Acharyulu noted.
While researching on the subject, Acharyulu found an article which had claimed an inquiry committee under Raj Narain was formed by erstwhile Janata Party government in 1977. It was also reported that two crucial witnesses - the personal physician of Shastri RN Chugh and his personal servant Ram Nath - died in road accidents when they were coming to depose before the committee.
Acharyulu recommended the Parliament Secretariat to search in their library whether any records regarding the inquiry committee could be retrieved and if they are traced, they should be transferred to the NAI. He also directed PMO, MEA, MHA to disclose records, including 11 pages related to Shastri's death held by Cabinet Secretariat which were earlier ordered to be disclosed by CIC.
Acharyulu said if any public authority feels that some records maybe secret and confidential attracting exemption clause of RTI Act's Section 8(1)(a), they must produce it in a sealed cover before CIC to adjudicate whether assumptions are correct or not. "This RTI request is an effort of a citizen to know information regarding the 'truth' behind the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri," he noted.