Will CIC ruling bring out 'skeletons' of Air India during Praful Patel's tenure?
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).
- • Air India rolls out big jet to please VIPs—Mail Today 29.04.2010: Air India deployed a larger aircraft than the scheduled one, just to ensure that Praful Patel’s daughter Avni, her husband Prashant and her in-laws could all fly business class to Male, the capital of Maldives.
- • Praful Patel’s daughter pulled out scheduled AI flight for IPL—TOI 13.04.2010: Air India Flight IC-7603 which was scheduled to depart to Coimbatore at 5.00pm on 20th April from New Delhi was aborted 12 hours before the departure at the behest of Purna Patel (his other daughter). This aircraft was used as chartered plane to ferry several IPL players along with Purna Patel from Chandigarh to Chennai.
• Govt nixes AI boss’s London trip & Protests at IGI before AI CMD took off—TOI 13.08.2011: Livid over Air India chairman and managing director (CMD) Arvind Jadhav flying to London at a time when the government was facing uncomfortable questions in Parliament about the state of affairs in the airline, the aviation ministry asked him to return within hours of landing in the British capital.
Jadhav had to fly back on the same aircraft less than 24 hours after he had taken off from IGI Airport).
- • Rohit Nandan appointed Air India chief—The Hindu website 12.08.2011: Air India got a new chairman-cum-managing director as the government on Friday formally notified the appointment of Rohit Nandan, a UP cadre IAS officer of the 1982 batch, to head the ailing national carrier. Mr Nandan, a joint secretary in the civil aviation ministry, replaces Arvind Jadhav, a senior IAS officer, who has been given marching orders and repatriated to his parent cadre in Karnataka.
Based on the above news items, Mr Agrawal filed his RTI application to the PMO office, demanding the following information:
- • Complete and detailed information together with related correspondence/documents/file-notings/ etc on the decision taken and implementation of calling back Arvind Jadhav from London.
- • Did Arvind Jadhav seek permission of concerned authorities for his London trip suddenly abandoned just on his reaching London? If yes, copies of complete correspondence/documents/file-notings, etc on Mr Jadhav’s seeking permission for the said London trip and of any such granted permission mentioning also purpose of the later abandoned London trip of Mr Jadhav.
- • Complete and detailed information on expenses incurred on later abandoned London trip.
- • Copy of complete correspondence/documents/file-notings etc on removing Mr Jadhav from post as chief of Air India.
- • Copy of complete correspondence/documents/file-notings etc on deputing Mr Rohit Nandan as Air India chief.
- • Complete and detailed information on action taken against Praful Patel and others concerned at Air India and Alliance Air for misuse of national airliners for convenience/benefits of family members of the Union minister Praful Patel.
- • Complete and detailed information on any other such reported episode involving misuse of national airliners for convenience/benefits of any Union civil aviation minister.
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.
To read more news and RTI analysis, click here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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