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Delhi High Court stays CIC order on disclosing info on PM Modi’s foreign visits

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The Delhi High Court has issued notice on a plea by the CPIO Indian Air Force challenging a CIC order directing the disclosure of information pertaining to foreign visits by PM Narendra Modi and former PM Manmohan Singh. The Delhi HC stayed the order of the CIC and directed the respondent to file a reply within 4 weeks. 

The petition has been filed by the Central Public Information Officer, Directorate of Personnel Services Air Headquarters, Indian Air Force through Advocate Rahul Sharma against the order of July 8, 2020, directing the CPIO to provide details of relevant Special flight returns-II to an RTI applicant (Commodore Lokesh K. Batra) within 15 days. 

The Court will hear the matter next on April 12, 2021.

During the hearing on Friday, Advocate Rahul Sharma submitted the CIC order is full of dichotomy. The info sought is in relation to two PMs. The special flight returns has the exact name of the passengers, their designation, organization and the intending agency. These are SPG personnel. These are confidential. They are exempted under RTI Act. 

Respondent counsel submits- preliminary objection. First the order was issued on 08/07/2020, uploaded on the website 04/08/2020, it directed the CPIO to comply with the order within 15 days. Secondly, the CIC order is only after they (CPIO) said they will abide by the CIC order. Their Writ petition is misconceived. 

Bench come to operative part of the directions. In the severance, if you see part 2, it will be only the number of passengers. It was the job of CIC to be clear on this what info should be disclosed. SPG is already exempted. But at the same time, there are other bodies. Their ranks etc. Why should that be disclosed. At best you will get the numbers. 

The petition stated that the impugned order of CIC has failed to appreciate and consider that the information sought by the respondent from the petitioner 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 and since it relates to part II of the Special Flight Returns (SFR) and official records of functioning and working of the security apparatus of the Prime Minister of India which cannot be brought in public domain for safety and security reasons. The information so sought includes details related to the entire entourage, names of Special Protection Group personnel accompanying the PM on foreign tours for his personal safety, and the integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State. 

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It further stated that the CIC completely overlooked the fact that the information sought by the Respondent in his RTI dated 05/06/2018 was completely exempt from disclosure under Sections 8(1)(a), 8(1)(e) & 8(1)(g) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and conveniently overlooked and misinterpreted the law concerning “larger public interest” and sensitive information. 

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