The Central Information Commission has also asked the Ministry of Defence to reveal the Attorney General’s opinion on sending back already procured choppers.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Ministry of Defence to place in the public domain some of the information pertaining to India’s scrapping of the Rs. 3,700 crore AgustaWestland chopper deal. The CIC has demanded that all file notings, documents, correspondence and agreements related to the signing of the contract be shown to it on camera, so that it can decide if the disclosure can be exempted under the Right to Information Act (RTI).
The ministry has been directed by Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Singh to disclose the bank guarantee amount received by India and whether the helicopters already procured from the company would be sent back.
Responding to a petition filed by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, the CIC has also asked the ministry to provide a copy of the attorney general’s opinion on sending back already procured helicopters.
However, the commission upheld the ministry’s view on not sharing some information, such as file notings and correspondence on action taken to recover payments already made by India towards the choppers that had been procured, saying that any disclosure of this information would affect ongoing arbitration proceedings to recover these payments.
The CIC also agreed with the ministry’s decision not to make public the names of Indians and foreigners (as well as their current and past professional posts) who are currently under the scanner for receiving kickbacks in the chopper deal, because information of this nature is exempted under Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.
Similarly, the CIC allowed the ministry to not disclose information pertaining to the full names of the suspects, who are referred to by acronyms, such as “POL”, “AP” and “FAM”, as well as the amount of kickbacks received by each as reported in the Italian court.
But the commission said that the ministry would have to provide the details of the cases in Italian courts in which India is a party. It also directed the ministry to provide the names of the Italian advocates and law firms hired to represent India in the Italian courts.
The ministry had said that it did not have information on the names of persons whom the CBI had sought permission to interrogate or prosecute and the names of persons who have already begun to be interrogated in India. The CIC accepted this.
The ministry had also claimed before the panel that it did not know whether the union government had not allowed the CBI to interrogate certain persons and if the CBI had sought permission to question former National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and former Director of Special Protection Group B.V. Wanchoo on the matter.
Agarwal had demanded information on two senior government functionaries citing a news report that appeared in the January 2, 2014 edition of the Hindustan Times. The report claimed that the then UPA government had red-flagged the CBI probe against the two as they were then serving as the governors of West Bengal and Goa respectively.
The CIC has directed the chief public information officer at the ministry to provide the information sought within 15 days of receiving the order.