MEA directed to disclose Air-India bills for PM Modi's foreign-visits
RTI apex body Central Information Commission has directed External Affairs Ministry to disclose how much money was spent on chartering Air India aircraft for PM Narendra Modi's foreign trips during 2013-17. The case pertains to a petition by Indian Navy's former Commodore Lokesh Batra who sought to know the details related to the expenditure incurred on AI flights under the RTI Act. Here's more.
Ministry didn't give sufficient information: Batra
Batra said MEA provided him with incomplete information and that is why he has approached the CIC, the highest appellate authority in RTI Act-related matters. During the hearing, the retired Commodore claimed that the general public should be informed about at what stage or with which public authority the bills and invoices raised by the national carrier are pending for payment.
Air India is a cash-strapped airline: Batra
"Air India is a cash-strapped airline that does not make money. Therefore, delay in settling these bills would also include sizable interest figure(s), which needs to be paid at the expense of taxpayers' money," said the retired Commodore Batra.
MEA says providing details involves searching many records
MEA said details about the expenses incurred on PM Modi's foreign trips, including the amount, reference numbers, dates of bills raised by the Indian Air Force and Air India, are scattered across various records and files. However, Chief Information Commissioner RK Mathur rejected the Ministry's contention that providing details sought by the appellant (Batra) involves searching a vast number of records by many officials.
Authorities can't hide details in garb of national security: Batra
Lokesh Batra stated that the records of expenses incurred on Air India aircraft for the Prime Minister's visits can't be brushed aside "in the garb of national security." Public authorities can deny any requested information citing national security concerns. However, Batra said details about PM Modi's travel are of the nature of "liabilities" of the taxpayers to pay for the AI services rendered.
CIC rejects MEA's argument that collating bills diverts resources
MEA said that collation of bills and invoices requested by Batra would "disproportionately" divert its resources. However, RK Mathur, after hearing arguments of MEA and Batra, said the payment of the outstanding dues ultimately requires compilation of the information, rejecting the Ministry's argument. He added even if payments were already made against the bills, it would've been done only after collating the bills/invoices.
MEA should provide all expense-related details: Chief Information Commissioner
"Whatever payment is to be made, it needs to be done after collecting the bills/invoices. The Commission is of the opinion that the respondent (MEA) should provide to the appellant (Batra) travel bills relating to Air India' from FYs 2013-14 to 2016-17," RK Mathur said.