On Friday, the Delhi High Court stayed the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC), which demanded information related to ‘Special Return Flight’ (SRF) -II from the Indian Air Force. This information includes the details of the flight boarded by Prime Minister Modi and the people accompanying him in the SRF-II.
Justice Naveen Chawla said that the detailed information of the Ministry officials accompanying the Prime Minister sought by the RTI applicant cannot be made public but information regarding the number of passengers and flights can be revealed.
The High Court issued a notice to the RTI applicant Commodore (Retired) Lokesh. K. Batra, asking about his opinion on the Indian Air Force’s appeal against the CIC’s directive of 8th July 2020. Further, the court postponed the next hearing of the case till 12th April 2021.
The High Court highlighted that the CIC should be clear about what information can be provided and which information is to be excluded from the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Air Force was advocated by Rahul Sharma and Advocate CK Bhatt, forming the panel of senior advocates of Central Government.
The Air Force questioned the CIC’s directive in the High Court, terming the directive ‘contradictory’ as it said the information sought was beyond the purview of the RTI Act.
Significantly, the CIC has directed the Indian Air Force to provide a verified copy of the respective SRF-I and SRF-II to the RTI applicant. In the application, Batra has demanded to provide a verified copy of SRF-I and SRF-II pertaining to every foreign trip of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi from April 2013 till now.
The Air Force told the court that it has provided information of SRF-I which contains information on the number of members of the operational crew accompanying the Prime Minister’s aircraft but information of SRF-II cannot be provided as it contains the information which can potentially breach security protocols of the Prime Minister.