Supreme Court directs information commission to respond to writ regarding Lal Commission reportThe report includes findings from investigations into deadly violence in 2015 that killed nearly 50 people.
The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the National Information Commission to respond to an application regarding the publication of a report by the Lal Commission, which was formed to investigate the deadly violence involving police and protesters in the run-up to the promulgation of 2015 constitution. Nearly 50 people, including both protesters and police, had died in confrontations.
The mandamus order by a joint bench of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana and Justice Sapana Pradhan Malla to the information commission has brought to the fore two crucial facts: the government’s delay in making public critical reports of public interest and complications in the implementation of the Right to Information.
“The bench issued an order to the information commission asking it to respond to the appeal of the writ petitioners within three months,” said Devendra Dhakal, an information officer at the Supreme Court.
The commission was formed by the government on September 18, 2016 under Girish Chandra Lal, a former Supreme Court justice, to investigate deadly violence in the Tarai in 2015. The report covers several weeks of violence in the plains when the Constituent Assembly in Kathmandu was trying to finalise the constitution.
The commission had presented its report to the Sher Bahadur Deuba government in December 2017. Despite repeated calls to make the report public, the government has refused to do so, even turning down a House ruling.
Advocate Sunil Kumar Chauhan had registered the writ petition at the Supreme Court on August 22 last year on behalf of four victims of the violence—Shashidhar Pandeya, Dharmendra Murau, and Gita Kumari Barai of Rupandehi and Awadesh Prasad Kurmi of Parsa.
The petitioners had initially demanded on December 31, 2017 that the Prime Minister’s Office provide the report. But after nine days, the Prime Minister’s Office said that it had already sent the report “for necessary action” to the Home Ministry as per a Cabinet decision on December 28, 2017.
When the petitioner approached the Home Ministry on January 14, 2018, it responded after 15 days that it did not have the report. This led the petitioner to appeal at the National Information Commission.
In response to the information commission’s enquiry, according to Chauhan, the Prime Minister’s Office said it had already provided the information the petitioners were seeking. This led the petitioners to apply afresh to the information commission. After there was no response from the commission, they approached the court on August 22 last year.
“It’s unfortunate that victims of the violence have had to suffer for the last two years to get general information about the report of a commission formed by the government,” said Chauhan.
The process to file a Right to Information application appears simple but it is often made cumbersome by bureaucracy. According to the Right to Information Act, a petitioner must first file an application with the information officer of the concerned agency. The information must be provided immediately if possible and within 15 days at the latest. If the information is not provided, the petitioner must file an application with the Information Commission, who will then ask the concerned agency to provide the information within 60 days. If the information is still not provided, the Information Commission can take action.
Advocate Baburam Aryal, who surveyed the Right to Information Act and its application in 2009, said there was a tendency among bureaucrats to hide information instead of disseminating it.
“Most bureaucrats tend to hide information as they believe they have taken the oath of office and secrecy just to keep information secret,” Aryal told the Post.
Aryal also said officials at the National Information Commission seem to take a selective approach when it comes to applications.
“Why can’t the information commission take action against the Prime Minister’s Office when it comes to the Lal Commission report while in the past it warned the secretary of the Judicial Council for not providing information,” said Aryal.
As far as the Lal Commission report is concerned, even international rights bodies have demanded that the government make it public. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation, called on the government of Nepal to make the Lal Commission report public.
“Selective leaks in the media are causing confusion about the findings. The government should instead release the full report and explain how it will respond to recommendations,” the rights body quoted its South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly as saying. “Victims and their families placed their faith in government commitments to an independent investigation, and there can be no possible justification for keeping the findings under wraps.”
The commission, set up in September 2016, had its six-month tenure extended twice.
Other members on the commission were Deputy Attorney General Surya Koirala, advocate Sujan Lopchan, former assistant inspector general of Police Navaraj Dhakal, and Home Ministry Joint Secretary Narayan Prasad Sharma Duwadi. They investigated 3,264 complaints registered with the commission.
According to Human Rights Watch, the commission, composed of highly respected senior officials, struggled to produce independent findings as it faced a lack of cooperation from state authorities.