PM, Home Minister should take a call on declassification of former PM Shastri’s death documents: CIC

The death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, one of the greatest mysteries of modern Indian political history, has yet again gained some traction, as the Central Information Commission (CIC) on Monday stated that all ‘classified papers’ relating to the former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death should be placed before the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to take call on their declassification.

According to the reports, the CIC issued these directives to the central public Information officers of the Prime Minister’s Office, External Affairs Ministry and Home Ministry after a plea by an RTI activist Navdeep Gupta sought information whether an autopsy was conducted on Shastri who had died on January 11, 1966.

“The Commission directs to place all those so-called ‘classified papers’ before the prime minister and the home minister, who are recommended to consider the fundamental right to know and demand of the people… To declassify (the records) either through an expert committee or by any other process to get the mystery probed and resolved,” Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said.

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Expressing surprise regarding the absence of records with the Rajya Sabha regarding the Raj Narain Committee, which was formed to look into Shastri’s death initiated during the Janata Party government, Acharyulu recommended that the ‘constitutional authorities’ in Parliament probe or make efforts to secure the committee records.

Lal Bahadur Shastri had died in Tashkent after he suffered from a massive heart attack, hours after signing a declaration with Pakistan President Muhammad Ayub Khan after the 1965 Indo-Pak war. His death has raised various questions, as it had occurred on foreign soil and remains a mystery till today.

Reportedly, the Union government had denied any information regarding the release of the classified documents citing them as prejudicial to the interests of the country. However, the Information Commissioner reportedly stated further that in view of the startling incidents that followed the mysterious death, such as the killing of his personal staff in two separate ‘accidents’, the vanishing of records of Rajya Sabha Committee’s probe, and several other points raised over the years journalists and Shastri’s family members, the Commission is of opinion that the Union government has a duty to explain to the nation why and how Lal Bahadur Shastri died in Tashkent. He further said that apart from a medical record, nothing has been disclosed and the mystery is being allowed to persist.

Acharyulu asked the government to reveal which ministry has classified documents related to Shastri’s death and also the nature of classifications of these documents, whether they are ‘top secret’, ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’ and the basis of it.  He asked the government to answer which part of the RTI Act is invoked to deny the information and the necessary justification put forward for such invocation at that time. He added that the people have a right to know what had actually happened.
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