New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the external affairs ministry to disclose records related to the expenses incurred on chartering Air India aircraft for abroad visits of the prime minister from 2013 to 2017.
Chief information commissioner R. K. Mathur rejected the contention of the ministry that details of the amount, reference numbers, dates of bills raised by Indian Air Force and Air India for the foreign visits undertaken by the prime minister are scattered across various records and files and collation of information in the manner sought by the appellant would involve searching of voluminous records by a significant number of officials.
The case pertains to Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd) who had sought the details of bills, invoices and other records related to abroad visits of the prime minister between financial years 2013-14 and 2016-17.
During the hearing, Batra said he was provided incomplete information by the ministry after which he approached the CIC, which is the top appellate authority in matters pertaining to the Right to Information Act.
He said he wanted the general public to be informed at what stage or with which public authority these bills and invoices are pending for payment.
Air India is a cash-strapped airline that does not make money. Therefore, delay in settling these bills would also include sizable interest figure(s), which needs to be paid at the expense of tax payers money, Batra said.
Batra said these records cannot be brushed aside in the garb of national security – a clause which can be cited by a public authority to deny requested information – because these are in the nature of the liabilities of the consumer(s) to pay back for the services rendered by Air India.
After hearing both sides, Mathur said payment of outstanding dues would ultimately require collating of these bills and invoices and rejected the argument of the MEA that collation would disproportionately divert its resources.
He said even if payment was made against these bills, it would have been done after compiling of bills/invoices.
Further, whatever payment is to be made, it needs to be done after collecting the bills/invoices. In view of this, the CIc is of the opinion that the respondent (MEA) should provide to the appellant (Batra) travel bills relating to Air India from FYs 2013-14 to 2016-17, he said.