The Central Information Commission has directed the PMO to “initiate fresh efforts” to find out the historical facts about the national anthem and national song after the latter refused to answer an RTI query on the same, claiming that the information did not pertain to it. The query was filed by Harinder Dhingra who wanted the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to “certify if ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was the national anthem and ‘Vande Mataram’ the national song, besides completing the file noting on declaration of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s poem as the national anthem.”
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The PMO, however, had said that the information sought “does not pertain to this Public Authority”. Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said it was surprising to know that on these national aspects, the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) of all high offices simply passed it on to the others “without application of mind”.
“This silence gives rise to doubts whether the Union Government has any records about Jana Gana Mana and Vande Mataram,” he said. Giving detailed history of the national anthem and national song in his order, Sridhar said, “All this necessitates an official dossier from the Government of India, based on thorough research of records in response to this RTI question to provide an authentic answer to doubts and to remove misunderstandings among the people about Jana Gana Mana.”
Citing the number of Supreme Court orders, Sridhar said, “To instill respect for the national anthem, the Union Government should do all they could to educate people about the historical importance and significant reasons for declaring Jana Gana Mana as national anthem.”
“Before punishing people for not standing or respecting the national anthem, they should be informed about its greatness,” he said. The Information Commissioner said in the backdrop of confusion created by the social media propaganda of unauthentic statements, the nation needed comprehensive authentic information about the national anthem and national song.
“The Commission remands the first two questions…back to the CPIO of PMO with a direction to initiate fresh efforts to find out the historical facts about these two inspiring songs-Jana Gana Mana and Vande Matharam– and status accorded to them to place facts before the nation and dispel widespread misnomers about them in larger public interest. “It is a national necessity to address the patriotic and secular sentiments of the people of India,” he added. Dhingra had also sought details from the PMO about the national animal status to tiger, national bird status to peacock and national flower status to Lotus.
While the question related to the national animal was transferred to the Environment Ministry, rest of the questions were responded by the PMO by stating “information does not pertain to it”. Irked by the “casual transfer of the RTI application”, Sridhar said, “Interestingly, the PMO ignored national anthem related questions and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) does not have anything to say about tiger and peacock being given national status. They directed the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to clarify about the national status to peacock and lotus.
“More surprisingly, the Additional Inspector General of Tiger Authority of NTCA says his office does not have any knowledge about conferring national status to tiger. And, he sends it back to another wing of MoEF (Wild Life Division) who did not respond at all,” he pointed out. The Information Commissioner said apex bodies of administration of the Central Government dealt with the RTI request in “such a routine procedural manner with all their red tape building heaps of files, but giving nothing.”
“Besides red tape, shirking the responsibility and washing off hands are biggest obstructions to access information,” he said.
During the hearing, the Environment Ministry had produced a letter of 2011 which said since the records were not forthcoming about national animal status, tiger and peacock were being re-notified as national animal and national bird respectively. Sridhar noted that the MoEF lost those significant records and only because of the RTI application, it re-notified the national status to tiger and peacock.
“The Commission directs the CPIO of MoEF to provide the entire information along with copies of the files pertaining to conferring national status to the above mentioned animal, bird and flower, without further transferring the RTI application in bits and pieces to different departments. “The Commission cannot approve and will not take the pathetic defence of the MoEF that records were lost,” he added.