India's Central Information Commission (CIC) has sought files related to foreign travels of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the external affairs ministry (MEA). The MEA had refused to answer a Right to Information (RTI) query requesting access to these documents citing security concerns.
Commodore (retired) Lokesh Batra had sought these details to assess the expenditure incurred Prime Minister Narendra Modi's foreign travels.
Chief information commissioner Radha Krishna Mathur directed the MEA to peruse the files to ascertain whether there were 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 told the CIC that the case involved substantive public interest as the bailout amount being given to Air India, reported to be in thousands of crores of rupees, is tax-payers' money. He said his RTI application sought information on four points -- details of expenses incurred on air travel during foreign visits of the incumbent Prime Minister and former prime ministers, the laid-down instructions, procedure involved in charting flights for PM's foreign visits and later filing 'flight returns' and raising invoices, and clearance of bills on completion of the visit, copy of bills, etc.
Batra told the Commission that the website of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), as on September 13, 2016, was showing that the bills were under process for payment, or were not received for journeys undertaken by the PM between June 15, 2014 and September 8, 2016.
He said there is a need for reforms by understanding the causes of long delays in payments to Air India. In its response, MEA told Batra that the details of PM's flight expenses contained information with security implications and were exempted from disclosure under section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act.
The ministry said in view of security reasons, the file inspection by the appellant cannot be allowed.