Delhi HC Stays Order To Disclose Entourage Details on PMs Foreign Trips

HC observed that details about those who travelled with PM may not be given, but the number of travellers can be disclosed.

The Delhi High Court on Friday stayed an order passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing the Indian Air Force to disclose under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2005, details about foreign visits undertaken by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and former PM Manmohan Singh.

Citing a potential security threat to the state, sovereignty and integrity of the country advocate Rahul Sharma, representing the Indian Air Force, argued that details of the entourage accompanying the prime ministers was "extremely sensitive" in nature and that "nothing good" could come from divulging the same. He added that one part of the information pertaining to the number of flights and visits had already been provided.

The CIC had on July 8, directed IAF to provide relevant information including the Special Flight Returns – Part II which contains the manifest to retired Commodore Lokesh K Batra who had applied for the same under the RTI act. The CIC in its order had said the information be disclosed "after severing the names and other relevant identifying particulars of the security/SPG personnel figuring therein".

To this, Sharma submitted that "Severance of the information cannot be done... Bad elements can strategise their next move." Disclosure of details about the Special Protection Group (SPG) that protects PMs are already exempted under the provisions of the RTI. Justice Navin Chawla observed that the information Batra sought on details of ministry officials who travelled in the entourage could not be disclosed. "At best you will get the numbers," the judge said. "The CIC sent the ball to your court to see what can be given," observed the court, remarking that the CIC should have known what can or cannot be disclosed under the act.

Representing Batra, advocate Prasanna S however opposed the contentions made by Sharma submitting that their plea was misconceived and that the CIC order was passed at the behest of the IAF.

The high court issued notice and sought Batra's reply on IAF's stand against the CIC's order.

Information if disclosed can affect state security: IAF to HC

The IAF challenged the CIC's order directing it to provide Batra certified copies of available and relevant Special Flight Returns-ll undertaken by Modi and Singh. In its plea, the IAF said the information sought for could not be revealed because, it included "details related to the entire entourage, names of Special Protection Group (SPG) personnel accompanying the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India on foreign tours for his personal safety, and the same, if disclosed, can potentially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State."

The CIC has "failed to appreciate and consider that the information sought by the respondent (Batra) from the petitioner (Air Force) cannot be disclosed and the application of the respondent for seeking the same ought not to have been allowed as the information sought is extremely sensitive in nature…," the IAF added. The details Batra was after were "official records of functioning and working of the security apparatus of the Prime Minister of India which cannot be brought in the public domain for safety and security reasons".

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