Records pertaining to the Prime Minister’s chartered flights for visits abroad cannot be disclosed under the RTI Act due to security concerns as per instructions from the PMO, the national carrier has said in response to an application filed by an activist under the transparency law. In his RTI application dated February 2, 2018, Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra had sought to know from Air India the dates of invoices raised for chartered flights provided by it for foreign visits of the Prime Minister since November 2016, and the dates of forwarding each of these bills to the Civil Aviation Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry. According to Batra, he got a response from the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) who said he cannot furnish information sought by him, and also sent him an e-mail communication from the PMO to Air India on the issue. In that email, sent to an Air India official on December 26, 2016, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had said, “Records pertaining to PM’s flight have certain information which may have security implications and are, hence, exempted from disclosure under clause (g) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, 2005.”
“As such, the Air India is advised not to disclose information relating to PM’s flight to such RTI queries,” it said. It was not clear what had prompted the PMO’s email in 2016. Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act exempts from disclosure information that would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.
Batra had mentioned in his RTI application, “It is observed that still there are considerable delays in settling the chartered flight bills and invoices of Air India in respect of foreign tours of the PM. On the other hand, Air India is being bailed out with huge tax payers’ money.” After receiving the response of Air India, citing the PMO’s instructions, Batra wrote to Air India saying that there is no provision in the Act to deny information without giving reasons as per section 7(1) of the Act or without quoting the CIC or court orders for denial of Information.
Air India has responded to his letter saying, “We never deny any information which is available as per our records of accounts Dept. As per provision in the Act we are not supposed to supply any copy of our document or as per section 7(1) of the Act, which is informed by PMO.” Batra has also written to the PMO calling the instruction to Air India a “serious lapse”.