LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday directed the federal government to submit complete details of the Toshakhana gifts received by political rulers and bureaucrats from foreign dignitaries since the creation of Pakistan, after a legal officer representing the Centre claimed the record was ‘classified’.

While objecting to the maintainability of a petition against non-provision of the details by the government, the federal law officer argued before the court that the record of Toshakhana articles was classified in nature and could not be made public.

The ministries of parliamentary affairs and interior, and Pakistan Infor­mation Commission have been arrayed as respondents in the petition.

However, Justice Asim Hafeez, who was hearing the petition filed by Advocate Muneer Ahmad, observed that the details were classified only when a buyer or retainer of Toshakhana items was supposed to declare his purchases in the annual tax returns.

The court then directed the law officer to present the details and let the court decide whether the matter was classified or not.

The judge adjourned the hearing till Jan 16, 2023.

Earlier, petitioner’s counsel Azhar Siddique argued that the people of Pakistan had a right to know every public act, everything that was done in a public way, by public functionaries and their chosen representatives.

He said the right to information was an integral part of a progressive democratic state and the same had been elaborated by the superior courts saying the right to information in all matters of public importance was indisputably a fundamental right guaranteed under Article(s) 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.

He said the public at large was entitled to know details of every public transaction and acquire information in all matters of public importance.

He stated that the right to information stemmed from the requirement that members of a democratic society should be adequately informed that they might intelligently influence the decision which may affect them.

The counsel asked the court to allow the petition and order the respondents to make public the details of assets gifted to rulers as well as bureaucrats and also provide the names, details, information, documentation and materials in respect of the persons/officials who have obtained the assets by making the payment.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2022

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