Delhi High Court on Friday has granted an interim stay till further orders on a Central Information Commission (CIC) order dated July 8 directing the Indian Air Force to disclose the details about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s entourage, who accompanied him in his foreign trips since 2013.
IAF approached the High Court with a petition citing a potential threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India. “The information so sought includes details related to the entire entourage, names of Special Protection Group (SPG) personnel accompanying the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India on foreign tours for his personal safety, and the same, if disclosed, can potentially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the State,” the petition said.
Single judge bench of Justice Naveen Chawla passed the orders while hearing a petition filed by Indian Air Force challenging the CIC order. High Court has issued a notice to the RTI applicant Retired Commodore Lokesh Batra to file a reply within four weeks explaining his stand on the IAF appeal. “There shall be a stay on the impugned order till further orders,” Justice Chawla said.
The matter has been listed for the next hearing on April 12, 2021.
On July 8, 2020, Central Information Commission had directed the CPIO, Directorate of Personal Services, Air Headquarters, Indian Air Force to disclose the details of PM Modi’s Special Flight Returns-II in connection to the RTI application filed by a retired person.
“If you see SRF-II, it will only be the number of passengers that he (CPIO) will be able to disclose. He can’t even disclose to you how many officers or what rank… Let’s say even Ministry of External Affairs accompanied the Prime Minister or the President, how will he disclose that,” stated the court.
The court has also directed the Central Information Commission to be clear with the guidelines regarding what information can be disclosed and what should be exempted under the Right to Information Act. Justice Chawla asked for clarification after the petitioner’s counsel contended that private people and people who are not the part of security apparatus had also accompanied the Prime Minister during his foreign visits.
“According to me, SPG is already exempted there … names etc have gone. It’s only then the number,” noted the HC bench.
In June 2018, Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.) had filed an RTI application seeking details of the foreign visits undertaken by current PM Narendra Modi and former PM Manmohan Singh since 2013. The appellant raised the concern that the information requested is concerning the expenditure of large tax-payers money and thus has a very large public interest.
In the reply, it was submitted that Manmohan Singh had not undertaken any air travel through IAF between April 2013 and May 2014. PM Modi had undertaken three foreign visits between June 2016 till July 2018.
Batra was denied the details about the aircraft, aircrew, and the entire entourage citing the reason that copies of SFR related to foreign trips hold sensitive information and would prejudicially affect the security of the state.