Noorani vs Nehru Library
Both at loggerheads over ‘Haksar Papers’
NEW DELHI: Can official files that form part of the ‘Haksar Papers’ in the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) be accessed by scholars? This is the question confounding the NMML after constitutional expert A.G. Noorani requisitioned some files marked ‘Top Secret’ and ‘NGO’ (‘Not To Go Out’ in official parlance) from the ‘Haksar Papers.’
Citing the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, Mr. Noorani has challenged NMML’s contention that the papers cannot be accessed by him through the normal course. Instead, NMML has set up a three-member expert group to scrutinise all such papers having official files in its collection as part of a larger endeavour to “clear all of them, or nearly all of them, for public access as soon as possible.”
The files in question are original files of the External Affairs Ministry. Unlike in the case of the National Archives, where official files are sent by departments after vetting them, much of the collection at NMML has been built up from private donations.
In the case of the ‘Haksar Papers,’ NMML got it in three batches — the first two from P.N. Haksar, who was the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi’s secretary, and the third sent by his daughter after his death.
Official Secrets Act
According to NMML Director Mridula Mukherjee, experts have advised that “as the corresponding provisions of the Official Secrets Act (OSA), 1923, were consistent with the provisions of the RTI Act, in so far as there was no discordance the obligations and penalties of the OSA were applicable (sic).”
The eight experts consulted include National Book Trust Chairman Bipin Chandra, Magsaysay awardee Shanta Sinha, former NMML Deputy Director D.N. Panigrahi, historian and NMML Director’s husband Aditya Mukherjee, the former Director of Historical Division in External Affairs Ministry, A.S. Bhasin, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Shekhar Singh of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.
But, Mr. Noorani differs with them. In his opinion, the stamp of ‘Secret’ had “lost the intimidatory character it once possessed under the OSA, both by virtue of recent judicial rulings and above all by the RTI… Indeed, its main purpose is to end the culture of secrecy fostered by the Act of 1923 as Section 8(2) makes clear.” Further, he has argued that the ‘Haksar Papers’ do not fall within any of the “bars” set out in Section 8 of the RTI.
Since the experts advised NMML to scrutinise these documents, a sub-group has been set up to examine all such papers.
And, as the papers in question pertain to the External Affairs Ministry, the library has asked it to send a representative to look at them and see if they can be opened to the public.
NMML in the dock
But a fact that has put NMML in the dock is that these very files have been accessed in the past. If government rules do not permit NMML to allow access to official files in its collection, then how was historian Ramchandra Guha allowed to access them while working on his book India After Gandhi is the question Mr. Noorani is asking.
The Hindu : National : Noorani vs Nehru Library
Re: Noorani vs Nehru Library
Haksar Papers open to public
NEW DELHI: After denying Constitutional expert A.G. Noorani access to certain official files marked ‘Top Secret’ and ‘NGO’ (Not to Go Out in official parlance) from the Haksar Papers in its collection, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) has decided to open them to the public.
The decision was taken by NMML as per the advice of a three-member expert committee set up last month to examine the papers sought by Mr. Noorani. Copies of the files in question have since been mailed to Mr. Noorani who had even filed an application under the Right to Information Act to secure access to them.
The three experts who examined the papers were twice Rajya Sabha member and expert on China V.P. Dutt; the former Director of the Historical Division in the External Affairs Ministry, A.S. Bhasin; and Shekhar Singh of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.
They were part of the eight-member committee on whose advice NMML initially refused Mr. Noorani access to these files.
The files in question are original files of the External Affairs Ministry.
The Hindu : New Delhi News : Haksar Papers open to public