The Delhi high court on Friday stayed an order of the Central Information Commission directing the Indian Air Force to provide information regarding Special Flight Returns (SRF)-II after the IAF had contended that it can’t share the details relating to the Prime Minister’s security apparatus.
Justice Navin Chawla also issued notice to RTI applicant Commodore (retd.) Lokesh K Batra on the plea and asked him to file his reply within four weeks. The court also sought to know from the IAF as to how disclosing the number of passengers on the flight would affect the security.
“What is the problem in giving the number of passengers? You may not give the names. But how does it affect the sovereignty of the country if the number is given?,” the court said.
The court was hearing a plea by the IAF, filed through central government counsel Rahul Sharma, against the CIC’s July 8 direction to the IAF to provide certified copies of available and relevant Special Flight Returns-II to RTI applicant Commodore (retd) Lokesh K Batra.
Batra had sought certified copies of SRF-I and SRF-II with regard to each foreign visit made by former PM Manmohan Singh as also Prime Minister Narendera Modi from April 2013 onwards.
IAF, in its plea, has claimed that the CIC has “failed to appreciate and consider that the information sought by the respondent (Batra) from the petitioner (Air Force) cannot be disclosed and the application of the respondent for seeking the same ought not to have been allowed as the information sought is extremely sensitive in nature…”
During the hearing, Centre’s counsel told the court that IAF has already given the details of the flights. However, they cannot give the second part of the information sought which is the details on the passengers. He said that if such information is given then it would expose how many people are travelling with the PM in his security apparatus.
He said that the information is highly confidential and it would not benefit the petitioner (Batra) in any form.
However, the court said that the petitioner has sought the information with regards to the passengers which may also include various ministry officials, journalists etc. It said that the number of passengers can always be given.
Appearing for Batra, his counsel Prasanna S told the court that CIC had passed the order in July and directed that the information be given within 15 days. However, the same has not been done and he was informed only on Sep 7 that the order was being challenged. He contended that the IAF had undertaken to supply this information only after which the CIC had passed the order.
During the proceedings, the court said that it was the job of the CIC to specify the information which has to be disclosed. It also said that at best the numbers of passengers could be given without any other details.
The matter would now be heard on April 12.
The petition has contended that the SRF copies sought by Batra relate to “official records of functioning and working of the security apparatus of the Prime Minister of India, which cannot be brought in public domain for safety and security reasons.