LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Monday observed that prima facie access to the details of Toshakhana articles was a right of the masses under Article 19-A of the Constitution, which protects the right to information.

Justice Asim Hafeez was hearing a petition seeking complete details of Toshakhana gifts received by the political rulers and the bureaucrats from foreign dignitaries since the creation of Pakistan.

Cabinet Division Section Officer Nida Rehman appeared before the court and stated that the federal government had constituted a committee in June 2022 to decide what information about the Toshakhana articles could be made public.

The judge observed that if officials of the FBR and the ECP had access to the Toshakhana gifts, how the details could be termed classified.

“If a private person can have access to classified information, why not the common citizens?” Justice Hafeez posed a query.

The judge adjourned further hearing till Jan 19 and directed the federal government to come up with a comprehensive reply on the matter.

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

He said the right to information stemmed from the requirement that members of a democratic society should be adequately informed, so 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 the assets gifted to the 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 payment.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2023

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