New Delhi: The Central Information Commission on Monday stated that all classified records pertaining to former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death should be placed before the Prime Minister and home minister to take call on their declassification. The directives were issued to the central public information officers of the Prime Minister’s Office, External Affairs Ministry and Home Ministry on the plea of an RTI applicant seeking to know if autopsy was done on Shastri who had died on January 11, 1966 in Tashkent in a Soviet dacha.
“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.
He also expressed surprise that there are no records with the Rajya Sabha pertaining to the Raj Narain Committee to look into Shastri’s death initiated during the Janata Party government in late seventies.
“Parliament is known for meticulous maintenance of documents. Every word uttered in Parliament is recorded and kept in public domain, a humongous task the office is perfectly performing. Then how such a significant record disappeared,” he said. Acharyulu recommended that the “constitutional authorities” in Parliament to probe or make efforts to secure the committee records. “People’s right to know the ‘truth’ behind the death of Shastri cannot be brushed aside on the ground of Section 8(1)(a) en bloc. A committee of experts should be constituted to examine the need of declassification of such records,” he said.
Shastri had died in Tashkent, hours after signing a declaration with Pakistan President Muhammad Ayub Khan post-1965 Indo-Pak war during talks moderated by Soviet Premier Alexei Keynoting. He reportedly died from a massive heart attack but questions were raised on the circumstances of his death on foreign soil when cold war was at its peak. The conspiracy theories were further fuelled after the central government started denying documents, under the RTI Act, related to his death calling them secret and disclosure prejudicial to the interests of the country.