New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to produce one representative file related to foreign travels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the top office refused an RTI applicant access to these documents citing safety concerns.
The case relates to Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra who had sought details related to the expenditure incurred on foreign travels of the Prime Minister and his predecessors, which the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had denied citing sections of the RTI related to security.
The PMO had refused to provide the information citing personal safety. Chief information commissioner Radha Krishna Mathur has now directed the PMO to peruse the files to ascertain whether there was any security concerns in the records on the basis of which information can be denied. “The Commission observed that without perusal of the file, it cannot be decided that whether the sought for information contains security related information," Mathur said, directing the ministry to produce one representative file before it.
Batra stated before the commission that the case involves substantive public interest as the bailout amount, reported to be in thousands of crores of rupees, being given to Air India is the money of tax payers. He referred to his RTI application and stated that he was seeking information on four points regarding details of expenses incurred on air travel by Air India in respect of foreign visits of the incumbent Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers, the laid down instructions, process/procedure/steps involved in chartering flights for PM’s foreign visits and later filing ‘flight returns’ and raising bills/invoices and clearing bills on completion of the visit, copy of bills, etc.
Batra told the Commission that the PMO website as on 13 September 2016 was showing that the bills are under process for payment or have not been received for journeys undertaken by the PM during the period between 15 June 2014 and 8 September 2016. He said there is a need for reforms by understanding the causes of long delays in payments to Air India.
In its response, the PMO had told Batra that the record pertaining to flights of the PM contain information, which has security issues and hence it is exempted from disclosure under section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act.
The external affairs ministry had earlier said that the matter falls under the category where the disclosure of information would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India and security interests of the State and hence, attract the provision of section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. It said in view of security reasons, the file inspection by the appellant cannot be allowed.