Press Trust of india

Revisit denial to disclose report on armed forces’ pay: CIC to PMO

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New Delhi:  The Central Information Commission has directed the Prime Minister’s Office to “revisit” its refusal to disclose under the RTI a 14-year old report by a Group of Ministers led by former External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on pay and pension of armed forces personnel on grounds that it was “highly sensitive”.

The directive came after the RTI applicant told the panel that substantial portions of the report that were termed “highly sensitive” and “prejudicially affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India” by the PMO, have already been declassified and disclosed by the Defence Ministry.

Through his RTI application dated January 31, 2021, S Y Savur had sought the copy of the report submitted by Mukherjee on December 19, 2008 for then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s approval and copy of the approval along with file notes, office memorandum along with all relevant information that “preceded” the approval.

The PMO had refused to disclose the report and other documents, calling the information as “highly sensitive” and invoking Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act to deny the disclosure.

The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the PMO initially did not provide any response and had replied to the application after the directions of the First Appellate Authority in the top office to furnish a reply.

“Information sought by the applicant is highly sensitive. Disclosure of said information would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security strategic or economic interests of the State. There the disclosure is exempted under provisions of Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act,” the CPIO response said.

When the matter reached the CIC, Savur said substantial information—the Group of Ministers Report of 2008–has already been declassified and furnished by the Ministry of Defence.

He said most of the recommendations of the GoM have been published or quoted in part in subsequent official reports and correspondence is in public domain.

In his written submissions to the CIC, Savur said the denial of file noting of the PMO under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, 2005 is an “excessive step” aimed at denying information that would “neither affect the national security nor violate sovereignty” since the report has been “quoted at length” in the Cabinet Secretary reports of 2009 and 2012.

During the hearing, the PMO reiterated its stand that the report and other details cannot be revealed under the RTI Act.

“In view of the foregoing discussion, the Commission hereby directs the respondent (PMO) to revisit the instant RTI application in light of the written submission of the appellant and furnish a revised reply upon exploring the possibility in terms of the RTI Act of dissemination of information by redacting information which is exempted from disclosure as provided by the Act,” Chief Information Commissioner YK Sinha ordered.

The Mukherjee led group of ministers had looked into issues of parity of paramilitary forces with armed forces among other issues in the pay, pensions and allowances for the armed forces.

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