Based on a string of newspaper reports, RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal has demanded information pertaining to sudden transfer of an Air India chief last year and misuse of the airlines by daughter of former aviation minister. Last week the CIC directed the Union cabinet secretariat to give information
Consider the following news items based on which noted Delhi based RTI (Right to Information) activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal filed his RTI application on 13 August 2011to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Based on the above news items, Mr Agrawal filed his RTI application to the PMO office, demanding the following information:
This RTI Application was shunted from the PMO office to the civil aviation department, which in turn forwarded it to the Union Cabinet secretariat which erroneously took the shelter of Section 8 (1)(i) stating that correspondence regarding ouster of Arvind Jadhav from post as chief of Air India and complete correspondence/documents/file-notings etc on replacing him with Rohit Nandan as Air India chief cannot be made public, as they were Cabinet papers.
On 9 November 2012, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the Public Information Officer of the Union Cabinet Secretariat, to part with the information within 10 days—that is 19 November 2012.
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States Mr Agrawal, “The CPIO of the Union Cabinet secretariat ridiculously rejected my application stating that documents that I asked for are exempted under Section 8(1)(i) of RTI Act because of being Cabinet papers! It is indeed unfortunate that the CPIO has declined information and documents without even carefully reading section 8(1)(i) of RTI Act. Otherwise also, Section 8(2) of RTI Act clearly stipulates that ‘a public authority may allow access to information if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests’.
Section 8 (i) states that: (i) Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the council of ministers, secretaries and other officers: Provided that the decisions of the council of ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over…”
The matter came up for hearing at the CIC. Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra has asked the Public Information Commissioner of the Union Cabinet secretariat to provide copies of the information sought by Mr Agrawal, within 10 days, which is 19th November.
In his written order, Mr Mishra has argued that: “…On behalf of the Cabinet Secretariat, it was argued that the decision to revert the then CMD of the Air India and appoint someone else in his place had been taken on the basis of a proposal received from the minister civil aviation addressed to the prime minister of India and, therefore, it was considered that not only his letter but all related documents including file notings was in the nature of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) papers.”
“On the other hand, the appellant (Subhas Agrawal) argued that as per the provisions of the sub-section 1(i) of Section 8 of the RTI Act, this information should be disclosed since this was being sought much after the decision had been taken and the matter was complete and over.”
Hence, Mr Mishra ordered that: “After weighing the submissions and arguments made before us, we are of the view that the desired document should be disclosed. Even if it is admitted that these documents constitute part of the papers which had been put up before the ACC, the decision of the ACC has already been implemented; the then CMD of the Air India has been reverted and a new incumbent appointed in his place. The above provision clearly stipulates that while, ordinarily, the Cabinet papers would not be disclosed, the basis on which the Cabinet decision is taken including the documents placed before the Cabinet for this purpose must be disclosed once the decision is taken and completely implemented.
“Therefore, there is no merit in not disclosing this information. We direct the CPIO to provide to the appellant the photocopies of the relevant records which constituted the grounds for the government decision to revert the then CMD of the Air India and appoint someone else in his place. This information should be disclosed within 10 working days of receiving this order free of charge.”
Will the Union Cabinet secretariat relent? Watch this space.
To read more articles on RTI by Vinita Deshmukh, click here.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”. She can be reached at [email protected].)