It claims the matter is sub judice.
The Agriculture Ministry has denied a Right to Information (RTI) request for details on pre-legislative consultations on the farm reform laws, saying the matter is sub judice.
In its response, the Ministry cited the clause from the RTI Act that exempts information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by a court of law or whose disclosure would amount to contempt of court.
This comes after an earlier response claiming that the Ministry did not have any record of such consultations.
RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj had filed her request on December 11, asking for specific details regarding the stakeholder consultations held before the Centre promulgated the three ordinances on agricultural reforms in June. Within the 30-day period given to respond, two Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) in the agricultural marketing divisions of the Ministry disposed of her request, saying that they did not have any record of such consultations.
The Hindu had reported this on January 12, a day after the Ministry told the Supreme Court that farm unions were “peddling an erroneous notion” that no consultations were held.
CPIO’s fresh response
On January 13, Ms. Bhardwaj received a fresh response from a CPIO who had previously passed on the request. “It is informed that the information being sought for has been challenged in various Hon’ble High Courts as well as Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. As such being a sub judice matter it may not be feasible at this moment to provide information under Section 8(1)(b) of RTI Act, 2005,” said the CPIO, adding that the delay in providing a reply was due to the COVID-19 situation.
Ms. Bhardwaj has appealed the denial of information, pointing out that the law does not allow for exemption merely on the grounds that a matter is sub judice. The CPIO had failed to show that any court had forbidden the disclosure of the information, she said.
“The Supreme Court is in fact expressing its deep concern that consultations have not happened. The government is filing an affidavit in court claiming that consultations have happened. But then at the same time, they are denying us any information about these consultations, on the grounds that it is sub judice. It’s absolutely absurd,” she said.
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