Tuesday, June 23, 2015

PM office denies datewise info on Modi meetings with Adani, invoking unwarranted invasion into privacy clause

By Our Representative
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office does not think that it is obligatory on its part to reveal even elementary information about the date-wise number of visits made by a top tycoon to his official residence in Delhi. This has come from a right to information (RTI) plea by a Gujarat-based citizen by Paragkumar Ashokkumar Patel, who wished to “total number of visits, datewise” by Gautam Adani.
Replying to the RTI plea, which reached the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on May 8, 2015, the PMO said, “The Prime Minister meets people from life not necessarily upon formal request”, which “may or may not be recorded”. Adani, who has emerged lately as the most powerful tycoon of India, is known to be close to Modi for long.
While refusing information under RTI, the PMO states, Modi holds “meetings -- formal and informal -- in connection with functioning of the government, redress people's grievances and meetings with various groups, agencies and officials on issues having prejudicial effect on the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state and relations with foreign states, as well as confidential third party information, etc.”
It further says, “Sometimes, persons meeting even request for these very reasons that the very fact of the meeting having taken place be kept secret.”
The PMO explains, “Though it is not possible to associate concerns relating to prejudicial effect on sovereignty and integrity, the security and interests of the state and relations with foreign states, as well as confidential third party information, etc. with each individual meeting, there may be instances of such meeting being exempt from disclosure of information.”
Taking recourse sections 8 and 11 of the Right to Information Act, the PMO has denied information saying, it “would not be possible to provide the information sought.”
Section 8 provides that no information should be disclosed if it creates an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of any individual, while Section 11 suggests that information may not disclosed if it relates to the third party wants it to be treated as confidential.
Section 11 has been applied despite the fact that Shailesh Gandhi, a former central information commissioner had ruled that it does not give an unrestrained veto to refuse disclosing information, but only an opportunity to voice its objections to disclosing information.
This is the second major instance in about a week’s time when officials around Modi have refused to provide information under the RTI. Earlier, the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, refused information about the reasons behind sacking of ex-foreign secretary Sujatha Singh early this year.
Well-known RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, who filed the RTI plea, said, “The Cabinet Secretariat has denied access to the Cabinet note and the list of people who attended the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) meeting as well as all related file notings”, claiming the matter is sub judice.
Comments Nayak, “It is obvious that they do not want to officially reveal the true story behind the unceremonious exit of the last foreign secretary”, adding, “None of the Delhi HC judgements/orders I cited in my RTI application have been stayed till date. Further, the PIOs' contention that the matter is sub judice is not a valid ground for denying access to information under the RTI Act.”
Nayak believes, “The issue of ACC minutes is not just an administrative matter. The appointment of officers or their voluntary retirement is undeniably matters of public interest. They perform public duties and are paid salaries drawn from the taxes contributed by citizens.”

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