Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s daughter Dina Wadia has challenged the Indian government to produce documents to prove it is the rightful custodian of Mumbai’s Jinnah House.
Dina and her son, industrialist Nusli Wadia, have approached the Central Information Commission seeking official papers on the ownership of the Malabar Hills mansion, claimed by the Indian and Pakistani governments as well as Dina.
The foreign ministry had refused to produce the information under the Right to Information Act, claiming it could damage India’s relations with Pakistan.
Officials had cited Article 8(1)(a) of the act, which allows the government to withhold information, “disclosure of which would prejudicially affect... the relation with a foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence”.
But the commission has asked the ministry to produce all the documents relating to Jinnah House before it at 12.30pm on January 15.
Sources said the commission wanted to decide if the disclosures sought could indeed harm Indo-Pak ties and, therefore, were a valid reason to deny Dina’s plea.
Dina, who has challenged Delhi’s claim to Jinnah House in Bombay High Court, believes that any documents the government is made to provide are likely to help her case. The next hearing in the high court is in February.
Under the RTI act, a matter’s pendency in court cannot be a reason to deny a petitioner’s request for information about it.
Jinnah had built the sea-facing bungalow, opposite the Maharashtra chief minister’s residence, in 1936. Designed by architect Claude Batley, it remained the Muslim League leader’s home till Partition. The house was the venue of several meetings between Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi in the pre-Independence days.
After Jinnah became Governor-General of Pakistan in 1947, he requested Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru not to sell the property, according to India’s first high commissioner to Pakistan.
In keeping with Jinnah’s wishes, Nehru handed the bungalow on rent to the British consulate, which occupied it till 1984. After that, it was given to the Indian Council of Cultural Research.
Pakistan, during this period, frequently asked India to hand over possession of the bungalow for a Pakistani consulate to open there.
But the foreign ministry has refused to budge. The Centre says the mansion comes under the category of “evacuee property” — belongings left behind by those who went over to Pakistan during Partition – and that the foreign ministry is the lone authority to decide on the future of such property.
New Delhi: The full bench of the Central Information Commission (CIC) has provided little succour to the Wadia family in its battle over the Jinnah House as it tossed the matter back to the first appellate authority of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The CIC, however, said that the MEA should try to divulge information on the Jinnah House within 15 days if it feels the revelation does not affect relations with Pakistan. It said that it is for the MEA's first appellate authority to decide which "sensitive" information should be disclosed.
The Wadias have been asking the government for ownership rights of Jinnah House, which belonged to Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Dina Wadia, Jinnah's daughter and Nusli Wadia's mother, is the sole heir and had staked claim to the property. While she wanted to maintain it as a heritage property, the Pakistan High Commission has been seeking the Centre�s permission to open a consulate there.
Nusli Wadia took the RTI route to get information regarding a letter written by his mother to the then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee and the discussions Wadia had with the then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.
In his representation, Wadia had claimed Singh had assured him that leasehold rights would be given to his mother. The Wadias approached MEA for these documents as they had filed a writ in Bombay High Court. However, they received only a few documents as the MEA invoked Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act that gives the public authority powers to not to reveal information that could prejudicially affect foreign relations with a friendly country.
"We also have on record a communication from the then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh� that he had indeed made certain recommendations� which had been approved by Prime Minister A B Vajpayee and that he would be willing to swear as much on oath. The material is already in the public domain�," The full bench, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Information Commissioners M M Ansari and O P Kejariwal, ruled last week.
NEW DELHI: Will India's ties with Pakistan be affected adversely if
the Manmohan Singh government admits that seven years ago the Vajpayee
government had decided to hand over Jinnah House in Mumbai to his sole
heir and only child, Dina Wadia?
Rejecting the government's plea for blanket immunity, the CIC has
ordered partial disclosure of documents on an RTI plea made by her
son, Nusli Wadia.
In its 10-page order on June 19, CIC rebuffed the government's bid to
deny information to Wadia under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act without
explaining how the disclosure of the documents related to the Vajpayee
government's decision on Jinnah House would undermine the country's
relations with Pakistan.
Nusli Wadia was aggrieved by the fact that, blanking out all
references to the 2001 decision in his favour, the government had
"selectively" disclosed information to him only on the subsequent
decision "to create an impression that there was only one decision
taken in respect of Jinnah House, namely, not to restore or grant the
same to Dina Wadia".
A three-member CIC team headed by Wajahat Habibullah ordered the
ministry of external affairs to determine within three weeks which
part of the information sought by Nusli Wadia was "sensitive or likely
to affect adversely India's relations with a foreign state" and "duly
record its reasons" for denying that information under Section 8(1) of
the RTI Act.
As a corollary, CIC directed that the rest of the information related
to the Vajpayee government's decision on Jinnah House should be
disclosed, if need be in an edited form.
CIC held that MEA's plea that disclosure of edited version of the
information would lead to "unwarranted conjecture was not found to be
The owner of Bombay Dyeing drew support from a letter written by
Jaswant Singh saying he was willing to "swear on oath" that when he
was foreign minister in 2001, he had made certain recommendations on
Jinnah House on the basis of a report from the then attorney general
Soli Sorabjee, and that his recommendations had been approved by
Citing his conversations with Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh, Nusli Wadia
asserted that, thanks to Sorabjee's opinion that Dina Wadia was
entitled to all the properties of her father Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the
NDA government took a decision to lease Jinnah House to her on certain
terms and conditions.
This vital information, he alleged, was being withheld from him to
"frustrate" Dina Wadia's rights in a writ petition filed by her in the
MEA gets 21 days to find sensitive spots in Nusli query
MEA gets 21 days to find sensitive spots in Nusli query
As reported by Rakesh Bhatnagar in D N A June 26, 2008 03:03 IST
NEW DELHI: Even as Dina Wadia, 88, is in Mumbai, Central Information Commission (CIC) chief Wajahat Habibullah has given 21 days' time to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) to initiate an exercise to determine which part of the information, sought by her son Nusli Wadia regarding the ownership of the mansion, "is sensitive or is likely to affect adversely India's relations with a foreign State".
Wadia had sought information about his grandfather's property which was denied to him. He put up an application with the CIC on January 24, 2007, where he had said the Pakistan government had officially announced that it was "abandoning its claim on Jinnah House". Wadia had noted, it was incumbent upon the Central Public Information Officer to disclose the reasons why the documents relating to Jinnah House could be "categorised as exempted under RTI".
CIC's direction on June 19, assumes significance in view of Wadia's claim that UPA's predecessor NDA government in 2001 took the decision that Dina Wadia is the rightful owner of the mansion, being the only heir of its owner MA Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. The then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh has affirmed that he had "indeed made certain recommendations" on the basis of attorney general (AG) Soli J Sorabjee's report "which had been approved by then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee".
Wadia said Sorabjee, after studying the papers, had opined that Dina Wadia being the only child and lone heir of MA Jinnah, would be entitled to all his properties including Jinnah House. Wadia said "the non-disclosure of documents is to frustrate the rights of Dina Wadia in the writ petition filed by her in the Bombay High Court''.
Wadia said "he believes the documents were selectively disclosed to create an impression that there was only one decision taken in respect of Jinnah House, namely, not to restore or grant the same to Dina Wadia and that the documents showing a different decision had been earlier taken had been deliberately withheld''.
MUMBAI: In a fresh affidavit before the Bombay high court on Friday, the centre admitted that there were "differing views” over the issue of handing over Jinnah House to Mohammed Ali Jinnah's only daughter Dina Wadia. It also said that though there was a recommendation from former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh in 2001 to give the Malabar Hill mansion 'on a long-term lease' to her, such 'internal views' do not create any vested rights in her.
The government said that since the final decision was taken in public interest to convert the property into a cultural centre, "any contrary view taken earlier and subsequently reversed, is an internal matter of the Indian government and surely creates no right in Dina Wadia'' .
The affidavit was filed by the centre's advocate Vinod Joshi after the HC adjourned the matter to October 24. It laid down the sequence of events of its 'internal deliberative process' and pointed out that there was no communication acceding to Dina's request of taking the house on a 'long lease' . "The efforts of Dina to base her claim on internal governmental process and views that may have been taken, are entirely misguided.''
In court, additional solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam , said some information sought under the RTI Act by Dina's son Nusli Wadia cannot be disclosed as it concerned relations with a foreign state but said the "entire record of Jinnah House right from the inception would be produced in court'' .
Dina (88), who resides in the US, claims to be Jinnah's sole heir. She contends that the government had earlier decided to grant her a long-term lease on it.
The government affidavit said the centre's stand was that its final decision was to utilise the property as a cultural centre . "Views that preceded this decision can't be relied on by Jinnah's daughter'' , the centre's affidavit said.
The government clarified, "After receiving Dina' letter dated July 2001, the then external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, wrote to the prime minister recommending that Jinnah House be given to her on a long-term lease, subject to conditions. "This note was obviously not preceded by any inter-ministerial deliberations. The PM then directed the attorney general, urban development, home and law ministries to be consulted . The urban development ministry indicated that it had no objection to the house being given on long-term lease. But in December 2001, the home ministry strongly objected to the grant of any such long-term lease to her.''
The then attorney general said a 'fair and equitable solution would be to grant a longterm lease to Dina Wadia' . The views of several ministries were once again solicited in June 2002. The MEA minister once again put up a note to the PM, saying the property be given on long-term lease to Jinnah's daughter.
The PM endorsed the MEA minister's views on July 2, 2002. But then a new MEA minister, Yashwant Sinha, was appointed in July 2002 and the foreign secretary placed a note before him that the "most practical decision would be to convert the house into a cultural centre'' .
Once again then the matter was sent back to the attorney general who, in October 2002, reiterated his earlier stand. But the foreign secretary in November said 'the rule of law couldn't bend to pragmatic consideration' and the external affairs minister Sinha wrote to the PM, agreeing with the foreign secretary.
The PM in December 2002 endorsed the view that the house can't be given on a long lease to Dina and the present government has continued to endorse this view, the affidavit said.
Court allows kin of Fatima Jinnah to intervene
Mumbai: The high court on Friday allowed the descendants of Fatima Jinnah, to whom Jinnah House was 'bequeathed in May 1939', to intervene in the petition. The interveners, termed Dina's claim as "false' ' and claimed 1/6th undivided interest in the residual rights of Fatima. According to them, one Ashraf Rajabally Ebrahim bequeathed her estate equally to them by her will dated March 24, 1986, as they were her son and grandson respectively .
On 19 June 2008, CIC had ordered the MEA to determine which part of the information sought is sensitive and will affect India's realtions with a foreign state.
MEA constituted a Committee which decided that the documents disclosed were suffiicient and that no further documents need to be disclosed.
However, CIC found that there were two notes from the Attorney General which were not being disclosed.
The CIC has ruled that the Ministry has already disclosed the rebuttal given by the then Foreign Secretary to these notes. If the rebuttal is already in the public domain, the there is no need for the notes which were rebutted to be held confidential.
CIC has therefore ordered disclosure of these two notes of the Attorney General, which were earlier witheld by the Ministry of External Affairs.
CIC clears Wadia’s plea on Jinnah House
as reported in Indian Express, Oct 04, 2008
New Delhi, October 3 The Central Information Commission has directed the Ministry of External Affairs to disclose the official correspondence of former Attorney General Soli S Sorabjee regarding the inheritance of Jinnah House.
The Mumbai property which had been owned by Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah was in the eye of the storm earlier with the Pakistan Government wanting it as a Consulate office.
The current controversy is regarding a plan to lease Jinnah House to Dina Wadia, mother of Bombay Dyeing owner Nusli Wadia and sole heir of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
The MEA had held that revealing any correspondence on the issue would be detrimental to national security in response to which the CIC had ruled that selective correspondence not compromising national security could be made available to Nusli Wadia on an RTI application filed by him in the matter.
A three-member bench led by Chief information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah also went on to disagree with the Ministry’s report that correspondence of then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh in this regard was too sensitive to be disclosed. The three-member Bench on October 1 found that non-disclosure of Sorabjee’s opinions was “not justified”.
“There is no definite finding that the disclosure of information sought would lead to an adverse impact on India’s relations with a foreign State, the Commission is of the opinion that non-disclosure of the same is not justified,” the Commission directed.
The Commission had on June 19 given the Ministry 21 days to determine which part of the correspondence, sought by Nusli Wadia was “sensitive and likely to affect adversely India’s relations with a foreign country”.
Wadia’s request for official documents on his grandfather’s property was denied to him, following which he had approached the CIC in January 2007.
The thrust of his appeal to the CIC was why the Ministry had flagged the information as “exempted from the ambit of the RTI” when the Pakistan Government had waived its “claim” on Jinnah House in Mumbai.
The CIC order is significant in the light of Nusli Wadia’s claim that UPA’s predecessor NDA Government in 2001 took the decision that 88-year-old Dina Wadia, as the only child and sole heir of Jinnah, is the rightful owner of the mansion.
Centre submits Sorabjee’s papers
as reported by Anshika Misra October 22, 2008, DNA India
Nusli Wadia sought lawyer’s opinion on Jinnah House via RTI
In 2002, senior lawyer Soli Sorabjee, then attorney general of India, had told the Central government that Jinnah House, the Malabar Hill bungalow built by Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was declared an evacuee property on “an erroneous factual and legal basis”.
After examining the contentious issue of the ownership of Jinnah House, Sorabjee had also opined that Jinnah’s daughter, Dina Wadia, who has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court staking claim on Jinnah House, was Jinnah’s sole legal heir and therefore entitled to the bungalow.
Sorabjee’s six-year-old opinion, a document that the Centre had been all along unwilling to make public, was filed before the HC on Tuesday by the Centre along with a fresh affidavit. Dina’s son, industrialist Nusli Wadia, had sought Sorabjee’s opinion under the Right to Information Act. The Centre had initially refused to part with the document. However, the Central Information Commission (CIC) had directed the Centre to provide the information to Nusli Wadia.
In the affidavit filed on Tuesday, the Centre said that the opinion given by Sorabjee was being provided to Wadia as per the directions of the CIC. The opinion is likely to buttress Dina Wadia’s case in the HC. Wadia, 89, who resides in New York, moved HC in July 2007 labeling the government’s move to take over Jinnah House in 1949 by declaring it to be an ‘evacuee property’ to be illegal. She alleged that the government’s decision was based on a wrong premise that Jinnah had willed the property to his sister Fatima, who was declared an evacuee when she left for Pakistan in 1947. Wadia contended that Jinnah’s will was never probated and thus has no legal standing in India.
Thus, being Jinnah’s only child and sole legal heir, she is entitled to the bungalow.
Sorabjee had opined that Dina Wadia’s claim to Jinnah House as the sole legal heir to Jinnah cannot be disputed and suggested that she be granted a long-term lease of the bungalow.
Several competing claims have been made for Jinnah House based on sentiments attached to Jinnah’s legacy like that of the Pakistan government, which wanted to occupy the bungalow for their consulate. After Dina Wadia’s petition, Jinnah’s grand-nephew Mohamed Rajabally Ebrahim,72, has also filed a writ petition in the HC stating he is entitled to 1/6th share in the property and that the government has “no right to squat” over Jinnah House after the repeal of the Displaced Persons (DP) Act, in 2005. The matter will now be heard in November.