New Delhi: Last month, the Central Information Commission (CIC) had asked the Ministry of External Affairs to disclose the names of the government and private individuals who had accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi on foreign tours from 2014-15 onwards.
In violation of the CIC order, however, the ministry has refused to disclose the information sought by The Wire in an RTI filed in the matter on grounds of confidentiality.
The ministry has only provided information regarding the media persons who accompanied the prime minister abroad, which is already public knowledge. Not disclosing information despite the CIC order raises serious questions about the Modi government’s claims of creating a transparent and corruption-free system.
The foreign ministry’s deputy chief of protocol and public information officer Mayank Singh wrote in the reply, “The information sought is extremely sensitive. If this information is disclosed, it will have an impact on India’s sovereignty and integrity as also on the country’s security, and strategic, scientific and economic interests. Because of this, a person’s life and physical security can be put in danger. Therefore, this information cannot be disclosed under Section 8 (1)(a) and (c) of the RTI Act, 2005.”
On October 6, 2017, one Karabi Das had sought information from the MEA regarding the expenditure of foreign tours Modi undertook in 2015-16 and 2016-17 along with details of individuals who accompanied him on these trips. When satisfactory information was not provided, the applicant approached the CIC.
While hearing the matter on August 21, chief information commissioner R.K. Mathur had ordered that the list of non-government individuals (not concerned with security) who travelled with the prime minister on government’s expense should be made available to the applicant.
In its reply, the ministry said, “On a foreign tour, PMO officials, security agencies, foreign ministry officials and media persons usually accompany the prime minister. These officers are selected on the basis of requirements of the foreign tour. The work of these officers for the prime minister is confidential, which is why this information is sensitive.”
When The Wire contacted Das, a resident of Assam, he said: “The ministry did not give the list of private individuals who travelled with the PM in spite of the CIC’s order to disclose the information. Except those who are part of the security, information should be made available about every individual.”
Although Das has not approached the CIC nor filed a contempt petition with it yet, he says he might file an appeal in the future.
The Wire also telephoned and e-mailed the foreign ministry seeking a response. However, no answer has been provided so far. The story will be updated as and when a response is received.
Additionally, the MEA also did not disclose the total expenditure of Prime Minister Modi’s foreign visits from 2014-15 to October 2018.
Based on a statement of the minister of state for external affairs V.K. Singh given in Rajya Sabha on July 19, a sum of Rs 1,484 crore has been spent on Modi’s foreign trips between June 15, 2014 and June 10, 2018.
During this period, Modi visited 84 countries. Out of this amount, Rs 1,088.42 crore has been spent on the maintenance of the PM’s aircraft. Another Rs 387.26 crore was spent on chartered flights while a sum of Rs. 9.12 crore was spent on the hotline.
According to Singh’s statement, Modi travelled the most in 2015-16, visiting 24 countries. In 2014-15, he travelled to 13 countries, 18 countries in 2016-17 and 19 in 2017-18. In 2018-19, Modi had covered ten nations till June.
This is not the first time that the Modi government’s transparency has been brought under the scanner. Earlier, Union minister for rural development Narendra Singh Tomar violated the CIC’s order when he refused to disclose details of how the amount of Rs 11.16 crore under the MPLADS fund was spent.