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Padma data rap for PMO

New Delhi, Sept. 10: The RTI watchdog has pulled up the Prime Minister’s Office for not disclosing correspondence between then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and President A.P.J Abdul Kalam relating to the controversial Padma nominations in 2004.

RTI applicant S.C. Agrawal had sought copies of the correspondence, with special reference to a letter by Kalam to Vajpayee, dated January 22, 2004. Kalam is said to have expressed concern at some of the Padma choices.

Although it is Vajpayee’s erstwhile PMO that is under the scanner, government sources said, the current PMO’s stalling was understandable. The PMO takes the final decision on the Padma awards in extreme secrecy and would not want to lose the “privilege”, a source said.

The Central Information Commission had asked the PMO in April to hand the documents to Agrawal. On April 28, the commission rejected the PMO’s claim that communication between the President and Prime Minister was “privileged”.

With the PMO still stalling, the commission on September 7 wrote to Sanjukta Ray, the deputy secretary in the PMO: “You are called upon to submit an action-taken report, specifically in regard to the non-compliance of the order, so as to reach this commission within ten days from the date of this notice.”

Many PMOs, including the current one, have stirred controversy with their Padma choices. The nomination of NRI hotelier S.S. Chatwal had sparked a furore early this year because he once faced a CBI case, but he received the award nonetheless.

A home ministry official explained how nominations are made. “The home ministry appoints a secret panel that is asked to choose from over a thousand names. Even after the committee draws up the list, the PMO can add or delete names at its discretion,” he said. “Everything is done in a very secret manner, which often raises suspicions.”

In 2004, the NDA government had allegedly violated several guidelines set by a panel, formed under K.R. Narayanan when he was Vice-President, including the deadline for the home ministry to accept the recommendations. Several recommendations were allegedly accepted after the deadline had passed, some apparently over the phone.

Agrawal said: “It’s strange that the PMO is yet to disclose the correspondence despite the commission order. Obviously, they want to hide something.”

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