MEA declines info on Lalit Modi's passport issue, draws flak

New Delhi: With External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj facing opposition onslaught over 'Lalitgate', her office has declined to provide information about the controversy surrounding restoration of former IPL boss Lalit Modi's passport, drawing sharp criticism from Congress and the Left.

Responding to an RTI plea containing seven questions, the External Affairs Ministry said, while a part of the queries did not come under the purview of the transparency law, regarding others it pleaded lack of information. The questions included one about who had taken a decision not appeal in the Supreme Court the Delhi High Court's decision restoring Modi's passport.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj

"Kindly note that the office of External Affairs Minister (EAM) has informed that the questions in Serial 1 to 3 of your RTI does not seem to fall under the purview of the RTI act, 2005. As regards to queries Sl No 4 to 7, no information is available with EAM's office," the MEA said in its reply dated June 26 to Rayo, the applicant from Haryana.

The MEA, however, said the application has been "transferred" to its Consular, Passport and Visa Division as well as to the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Home. The MEA's action drew stinging criticism from the opposition, with Congress calling it against the "spirit" of RTI ACT and CPI(M) alleging the transparency law has been "sabotaged" by the Modi government.

"This is against the spirit of the RTI ACT," said senior Congress leader P C Chacko. "In fact, any private information need not be disclosed but here is a case which is affecting even the security of the country also and person who is fugitive, who is an absconder, against whom there is an inquiry going on... and when information is sought on that, it simply cannot be treated as a private matter," Chacko said.

CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat said it was "more than just stonewalling". "It's a shame that the RTI Act which provides a framework for some amount of transparency in governance has been completely diluted and sabotaged by the Modi government. "So the government which came under claim of transparency and good governance is sabotaging the initiatives.

Now they say they do not have the information....makes a mockery of the act itself and the law for transparency," she said. BJP, however, made a cautious defence of the MEA move with party spokesman Nalin Kohli saying,"There is a process about RTI and there are certain rules about it and these rules are followed. If it is about specifics, the concerned officers would be the right place to ask."

Reacting to the MEA blocking RTI reply, AAP leader Ashish Khetan said "What we are seeing today is a government and politics without accountability and zero transparency in the era of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi." The first three questions included why Swaraj did not advise Modi to apply for a temporary travel document to the Indian High Commission in London instead if she intended to help him on humanitarian grounds to travel to Portugal.

It also asked why the External Affairs Minister did not insist on Modi's return to India as a condition for issuing a temporary Indian travel document. The questions from Sl no 4 to 7 included a query on whether the government has lodged any objections to UK for granting residency permit to Modi, who has refused to appear before the Enforcement Directorate, and what steps the government has taken since the issuance of fresh passport to the former IPL boss to enforce the ED summons.

It also included a query on who took the decision not to file an appeal in the Supreme Court against Delhi High Court's ruling setting aside cancellation of Modi's passport. It asked whether the ED, at whose instance the passport was cancelled, was consulted on the issue. The RTI application also asked about government's response to Modi's "wild charge that his life will be in danger if he returned to India."

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