New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to make public the information about travel bills Air India raised on foreign trips undertaken by the country’s Prime Ministers for the financial years 2013-14 to 2016-2017.
Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Radha Krishna Mathur in an order dated February 21, 2018 directed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to share the information with Right to Information (RTI) applicant Commodore Lokesh K Batra within 30 days.
Rejecting the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) request that making public the details was not possible as the records were scattered and voluminous, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Mathur to collate the bills and provide the details to Commodore Lokesh K Batra.
Lokesh Batra had sought details of expenses incurred on air travel by Air India in respect of foreign visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, details of process, procedure and steps involved in chartering flights for prime minister's foreign trips, and filing 'flight returns' and raising bills and invoices and clearing bills on completion of the visit and copy of bills.
Lokesh reached Central Information Commission after his request was turned down by the Prime Minister Office (PMO) which said the records pertaining to flights of the Prime Minister contain information which has security issues and hence it is exempted from disclosure under section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act.
Commodore Lokesh Batra contended that he had filed the RTI after he came across figures to show that the travel bills of Prime Ministers were not cleared for three or more years, with Air India and the taxpayers bearing the brunt of the delay. The interest lost was born by taxpayers, and hence he decided to find out exactly what were the costs incurred to Air India as well as to the public at large.
Stating taht unpaid bills/invoices raised by Air India are likely to raise its debt liabilities as these bills are yet to be cleared, Commodore Lokesh in his argument before the CIC pointed out that Air India in itself was a “cash-strapped airline that does not make money. Therefore, delay in settling these bills would also include sizeable interest figure(s), which needs to be paid at the expense of tax payers’ mone.”
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