Clauses relating to national security cited even after deal was cancelled, says activist
GN Bureau | April 28, 2016
Amidst uproar in parliament over corruption in the AgustaWestland chopper deal and BJP MP Subramanian Swamy’s attack on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, another twist in the tale has emerged. In 2014 when prominent RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal filed a query seeking information on the controversial deal, his plea was rejected citing national security.
Agrawal had filed the RTI petition on March 21, 2014 (when UPA was still in power) to the defence ministry seeking details of the sudden termination of the deal with the Italian firm AgustaWestland for supply of 12 helicopters to India. Irregularities came to light in February 2013 when the firm’s CEO Guiseppe Orsi was arrested on corruption charges in Italy. The then defence minister AK Antony ordered a probe the next day, and the deal was cancelled in January 2014.
The defence ministry and the Indian air force (IAF) provided some information to the RTI filed by Agrawal but withheld critical information citing several exemption clauses of the Act, including 8(1)(h), 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(d), relating to impeding process of investigation, security and strategic aspects, and commercial aspects.
Agrawal says the exemption clauses under various sub-sections of section 8(1) are not meant to provide “a hiding cover for scams, scandals and corruption”. Moreover, section 8(2) of the Act provides access to information in case public interest overweighs other concerns, which is the case here.
Agrawal had sought (1) complete information together with related file-notings/ documents/ correspondence/ agreement etc on (a) signing of the AgustaWestland deal. But the CPIO at the Air Headquarters vide response Air HQ/234011204/4/57641EIPS dated 14.02.2014 declined information on query (l-a) as exempted under section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act allegedly because of security and strategic interest of the nation.
His query (3) was about the total cost of helicopters and terms of payment, including payment already made with dates of respective payments. The CPIO rejected the plea citing exemption under section 8(1)(d), which relates to commercial aspects.
For the full RTI response see the PDF here.
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