Nepal | May 27, 2020

SC quashes Bhattarai govt’s decision on ‘classified’ documents

Himalayan News Service
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Kathmandu, September 10

The Supreme Court today quashed the erstwhile Baburam Bhattarai-led government’s decision to categorise 140 documents as ‘classified.’ The government had categorised the documents as ‘classified’ on the recommendation of then chief secretary Madhav Prasad Ghimire-led committee.

A special bench of Justice Girish Chandra Lal, Dipak Raj Joshi and Gobind Kumar Upadhyay issued the order on the writ filed by Democratic Lawyers Association and lawyer Ram Krishna Timalsena.

Advocate Yadunath Khanal, who pleaded on behalf of the petitioner, said the writ was filed to foil the government’s attempt to censure information in the name of classifying documents.

According to Khanal, the government’s decision to categorise documents as ‘classified’ was against the citizens’ right to information guaranteed under Article 27 of the Interim Constitution. “Baburam Bhattarai-led government had decided to categorise Cabinet decisions, recommendations of Constitutional Council as ‘classified.’ The government had also decided to categorise information related to roads, dry port and agriculture as classified,’ Khanal said.

He said the government also wrongly decided to keep the probe conducted by police and Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority as ‘classified.’ Advocate Kamal Prasad Itani, who had filed the writ on behalf of DLA, said the government had also decided to keep information related to persons facing criminal charges and blacklisted persons as ‘classified information.’

Lawyer Ram Krishna Timalsena said the apex court quashed Baburam Bhattarai-led government’s categorisation of classified documents and told the government to reclassify the classified documents as per the spirit of the Interim Constitution and Right to Information Act, 2007.

He said the SC’s verdict would help make the government accountable and protect citizens’ right to information.

Timalsena said the government wrongly decided to keep the reports of Inquiry Commission and bilateral/multilateral treaties as ‘classified documents.’

As per Section 3 of the RTI Act, the information held by a public body on the following subject matters shall not be disseminated: (a) matters which seriously jeopardise the sovereignty, integrity, national security, public peace, stability and international relations of Nepal; (b) matters which directly affect the investigation, inquiry and prosecution of a crime; (c) matters that seriously affect the protection of economic, trade or monetary interest or intellectual property or banking or trade privacy; (d) matters which directly jeopardise the harmonious relationship among various castes and communities, and (e) matters related to individual property or health of a person.

Freedom Forum Chair Taranath Dahal said as per internationally agreed principle, only three kinds of information related to national security, dignity of individuals and immature financial information could be categorised as classified. “Some information needs to be categorised as ‘classified,’ but this should not be a tool to conceal information. Supreme Court’s verdict protects people’s right to information and it should be welcomed,” he added.

The petitioners had named the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers as defendant, among others.

A version of this article appears in print on September 11, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.

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