The details of spending made on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s air travel during foreign visits may soon become public. The Central Information Commission has asked Air India to disclose complete records related to bills raised for foreign visits of Modi. The central information body underlined that since the expenditure is from the public exchequer, it cannot be withheld under the “cloak” of commercial confidence and fiduciary capacity.
The CIC rejected Air India’s argument that the information relates to commercial confidence and is held by the public sector undertaking in a fiduciary capacity, making it exempt from disclosure. “Moreover, by no stretch of imagination, it can be acceptable that the information regarding dates, duration and places of visit by the PM in his official capacity are exempted u/s sections 8 or 9 of the RTI Act (the exemption clauses under the RTI Act),” Information Commissioner Amitava Bhattacharyya ruled.
Bhattacharyya held that individual bill and dates of receipt of amounts involved “expenditure out of public exchequer”. The CIC said that that Air India’s denial to part with the sought for information without citing any exemption clause under the RTI Act is “not acceptable”.
In his application, the applicant had sought to know dates, duration, places visited and the date-wise copies of bills raised by Air India to the PMO for 2016-17.
In its decision, the CIC observed that dates, duration and places of the prime minister’s foreign visits can be disclosed as these are widely reported in the media. Bhattacharya further said that the commission is not convinced with CPIO’s submission of exemption under the “cloak of commercial confidence and fiduciary relationship”.
In response to another RTI, Air India had cited an instruction from the PMO to not share details of prime minister’s foreign visits.
“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,” Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had said in an e-mail sent to an Air India official on December 26, 2016.
“As such, the Air India is advised not to disclose information relating to PM’s flight to such RTI queries,” it added.