Delhi’s high court on Friday suspended an order from the Central Information Commission ordering the Indian Air Force to provide information on special flight returns (SRF) -II after the IAF had claimed it cannot share details related to the prime minister’s security apparatus.
Judge Navin Chawla also notified RTI Commodore (retired) applicant Lokesh K Batra of the guilty plea and asked him to submit his response within four weeks. The court also sought to know from the IAF how disclosure of the number of passengers on the flight would affect safety.
“What is the problem in giving the number of passengers? Can’t give names. But how does the sovereignty of the country affect if the number is given? ”Said the court.
The court was hearing an IAF plea, filed through central government attorney Rahul Sharma, against the CIC’s July 8 order to the IAF to provide certified copies of available and relevant special flight returns-II to the RTI Commodore (retd) applicant Lokesh K Batra.
Batra had requested certified copies of SRF-I and SRF-II with respect to every foreign visit made by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Prime Minister Narendera Modi from April 2013 onwards.
IAF, in its pleading, has alleged that the CIC has not “appreciated and considered that the information requested by the defendant (Batra) from the petitioner (Air Force) cannot be disclosed and the defendant’s request to search for it should not have been allowed as the information requested is extremely sensitive in nature … “
During the hearing, the Center’s lawyer told the court that the IAF had already released the details of the flights. However, they cannot give the second part of the requested information which is the details of the passengers. He said that if such information is provided, it would expose how many people are traveling with the PM in their security apparatus.
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He said that the information is highly confidential and would not benefit the petitioner (Batra) in any way.
However, the court said that the petitioner has sought the information regarding the passengers, which may also include various ministry officials, journalists, etc. He said that you can always give the number of passengers.
Appearing on behalf of Batra, his attorney Prasanna S told the court that CIC had approved the order in July and ordered that the information be provided within 15 days. However, the same has not been done and it was only on September 7 that he was informed that the order was being challenged. He argued that the IAF had committed to providing this information only after which the CIC had approved the order.
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During the process, the court said it was the CIC’s job to specify the information that should be disclosed. He also said that, in the best case, the number of passengers could be given without further details.
The matter would now be known on April 12.
The petition has held that the copies of SRF requested by Batra relate to “official records of the functioning and functioning of the security apparatus of the Prime Minister of India, which cannot be made public for reasons of safety and security.