The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spent over Rs 1.83 lakh on lawyers in 2015-16 in defending its position for denial of information at the Central Information Commission (CIC). In most cases, the opposite party at the Commission are common people who filed an RTI application but could not get a response or a satisfactory reply. In 2016-17, the total expenditure incurred on legal counsels by MEA’s RTI cell till January 31 was Rs 61,200.
In 2015-16, it was over Rs 1.83 lakh, shows an RTI reply in response to a query by retired Commodore, Lokesh Batra. The Ministry has refused to give details of payments made to lawyers individually, terming it exempted under the “personal information” clause of the RTI Act. Though the ministry terms the fees paid to lawyers from taxpayers’ money as personal information, the Uttar Pradesh government had, in a similar case earlier, disclosed the fee it paid to various lawyers for defending its cases in the Supreme Court.
In its RTI response to Batra, the Ministry said it selects lawyers from its panel. It also said the composite fee paid to lawyers for each consultation, conference, written statement etc is Rs 2,700 while it pays Rs 4,950 for appearance before the CIC.
Citing success stories of the Right to Information Act being used by schoolchildren, Batra asked if they could use the law so effectively why did Public Information Officers need the service of a lawyer (legal counsel paid by taxpayers) to defend such cases in front of Information Commissions and that too against ordinary citizens.