Air India, the country’s national carrier, has refused to furnish details on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign visits abroad due to security concerns as per instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office.
In a response provided to noted RTI activist, Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra, the Air India attached the instruction it had received from the PMO on 26 November 2016. The instructions from the PMO had said, “Records pertaining to PM’s flight have certain information which may have security implications and are, hence, exempted from disclosure under clause (g) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, 2005. As such, the Air India is advised not to disclose information relating to PM’s flight to such RTI queries.”
Shocked by the RTI reply, Commodore (Retd) Batra wrote an email to Air India on 20 March expressing his displeasure over the response. He wrote, “I like to emphasise that there is no Provision in the Act to deny information without giving reasonse as per section 7(1) of the Act or quoting CIC Orders or Court Orders for denial of Information. Incidentally, the information requested by me is being provided by even PMO, MoCA and MEA consequent to CIC Orders.”
The RTI activist received a response to his email a day later. In his reply, GR Vats from the Air India wrote, “We never deny any information which is available as per our records of accounts Dept. As per provision in the Act we are not supposed to supply any copy of our document or as per section 7(1) of the Act. Which is informed by PMO.”
Batra has also written to the PMO calling the matter a serious lapse and even threatened to report it to the CIC. He wrote, “I humbly request Director (RTI), PMO for perusal of attached AI response quoting PMO directions to Air India to deny information. Kindly take up this serious lapse at an appropriate level in PMO. Difficult to comprehend, how PMO could issue such instructions in violation of the RTI Act.”
PM Modi’s foreign trips and who accompanies him in his private plane has always been a mystery to everyone. His critics suspect that the PM is always accompanied by his billionaire businessmen friends during his foreign trips. After becoming the prime minister, Modi had done away with the previous practices of accompanying media personnel to international trips. Now, media personnel wishing to cover his international commitments are expected to make their own arrangements.