CIC refuses to divulge cost of Amit Shah’s security cover, rejects RTI!
‘With great power, comes great responsibilities’. But perhaps in the current situation in India, knowledge of certain things are only limited to a handful of powerful individuals. In a recent revelation, an RTI was rejected by the Central Information Commission (CIC) when BJP president Amit Shah’s security cover cost was sought, citing ‘personal information’ and ‘safety’ issues.
The CIC refused to disclose the information sought by an RTI activist Deepak Juneja on July 5, 2014, who queried about the rules which governed the extension of security cover to a private individual — Amit Shah, when he was not even a member of Rajya Sabha. The petitioner had asked for a list of people who were given security by the government and how much the Union government is expanding on them.
Union Home Ministry reply:
The reply from the Union Home Ministry, which is perhaps undigestable, says that information can not be disclosed. The ministry went further and cited Section 8(1)(g) that exempts from the disclosure of information that would endanger the life or physical safety of any person. It also cited Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, which exempts information that is personal, would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy and is not linked to any ‘public activity’.
Unsatisfied with the reply, Juneja challenged the CIC order in the Delhi High Court. Hearing the plea, Justice Vibhu Bakhru set aside the transparency panel’s order stating that the commission was first required to examine whether the information sought by the petitioner was exempted under clauses (g) and (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act. It further lobbed the matter before the CIC again to consider private contentions in the light of the exemption clauses of Section 8(1) of the act, reports The Financial Express.
Presenting his case, Juneja argued in the court that defraying cost of elite Z+ security cover to private persons must not be from the state exchequer. To which he received a reply from Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad that the grant of security cover to eminent persons under threat is the duty of the state. Azad further added that this is exempted for the beneficiary who holds a high office, as they cannot perform their vital functions while reeling under threat. But, the questions arise here are — Was Shah a cabinet member in the Ministry? Was he a parliamentarian at that time? No. Then why is it that the security cost for him could not be revealed?
The statement by Azad contradicts his opinion. Denying the information, he had stated, as quoted by the daily, “Amit Shah, who happens to be the national president of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has been granted Z+ security cover by the MHA since July 2014 despite him not holding any constitutional or statutory office.”
On the other hand, the Union Home Ministry was of the view that ‘the revelation of expenses incurred in providing security cover would reveal the intricacies, magnitude, and rigour of security cover’. The ministry also pointed out that these rules are framed in consultation with central security agencies, which are exempted from the purview of the RTI Act. Adding on, it stated that disclosure would nullify the exemptions. Is it that complicated or the current regime is making it complicated?
Consequently, the former IB special director, Azad tried to justify his argument of not revealing the secrets. He said, “Judicial notice can be taken of the fact that the protectees are already facing the highest level of threat and that is why they have been accorded with the highest level of security cover.” Azad even went to the extent of defending his argument by stating ‘The names of private Z+ protectees are personal since they do not owe the security cover to their public office but the private position in life’. But is Amit Shah a ‘private person’?
The Information Commissioner also briefed about the determining factors — including identity and specific threat perception analysis — based on which security cover are being granted. He stated, as the daily quotes, “The public eminence of the private person, threat perception, and the potential harm… are key determinative factors while granting security cover.”
Citing the preamble of the RTI Act, Azad stated, as the daily quotes, “The right to know, in such a case, must make way for the right to privacy of the individual and the efficiency of governance since the same furthers the concept of ‘practical regime’ of the RTI as conceptualised in the preamble of the RTI Act.” The former IB special director took the help of Supreme Court order on Right to Privacy to buttress his argument. Also, he stated about the Home Ministry’s disclosure of December 9, 2015’s Rajya Sabha’s question, where the ministry presented a list of protectees in the political and judicial field.
The whole debate is over the confusion on which topic RTI can be filed these days. A couple of months ago, the Union government was not ready to disclose over the expenditures on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign travels. Though, the ministry revealed it later, but why such a delay? Now The Live Mirror raises a simple question – how can a revelation of the cost of someone’s security cover threaten his/her security and privacy? We fail to understand…