New Delhi: The Central Information Commission has rapped two senior Indian Air Force officers for not furnishing timely and accurate information on expenditure incurred on foreign visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi using the force's aircraft, calling it a case of "the gross lack of knowledge or perhaps limited knowledge".
"(The) Commission is irked by the unexplained delay of two months in receiving the RTI application upon transfer from Respondent No.1 (Air HQ to Western Air Command) despite it being sent through registered post," Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha noted while hearing the complaint of Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired).
Batra had approached the Commission with a complaint against the IAF, saying it has delayed by seven months the response to his application seeking to know expenditure incurred on foreign visits of the prime minister using its aircraft for the purpose.
He also said the IAF first stated it did not have information related to his query seeking to know the public authority which bears the expenditure for the IAF aircraft, but after seven months stated that expenditure in respect of IAF aircraft conveying the Prime Minister abroad is met by the Embassy of India (Defence Attache') in that country.
"...Commission observes that both Respondents (officers of IAF HQ and Western Command) failed to apply their mind in the matter to ascertain the availability of information on para 2(b) (details public authorities bearing expenditure of IAF aircraft during foreign travels of the PM) of the RTI application with the concerned Directorate of Indian Air Force," Sinha said.
He, however, spared the officers -- Wg Cdr Suman Adhikari of IAF HQ and Sqn Ldr S.S. Elamurugu of Western Air Command -- from penalty, saying it could not find any mala fide in delaying the response.
In the absence of any material on record to prove that the transfer letter was deliberately delayed or was misplaced, the Commission does not find any reason to initiate action against either of the respondents, he said.
"Similarly, the fact that appropriate information has not been provided by the Respondents is attributed to the gross lack of knowledge or perhaps limited knowledge of the process of debit on account of various expenditure components of foreign visits of the PM," Sinha said.
On December 28, 2016, Batra had filed an RTI application with the Air Headquarters seeking to know the details of the foreign travels of Prime Minister Modi using IAF plane and expenditure incurred on them.
He had also sought to know the details of public authorities bearing the expenses of IAF Aircraft on these visits.
The Air Force had provided details of date, duration and destination of foreign visits but did not give details of public authorities which bears the expenditure on account of IAF aircraft during the foreign visit of the Prime Minister.
Deciding the first appeal, filed before a senior officer in the IAF, the appellate authority transferred his petition to the Western Air Command to answer details of public authorities which bears the expenditure.
"I went through huge harassment to contact CPIO in Western Air Command. In spite of the fact that the Appellant (himself) is a 'Veteran' of 36 years Commissioned service in Armed forces; it was getting impossible to find contact details of the CPIO of Western Air Command HQ. The reason being that the web site provide only one telephone number and that too of telephone exchange operator that phone number too was oudated," Batra said.
After five months of RTI being filed, he was informed by the Western Air Command that the information was not available with them and may be available with Air HQ (RKP)D Accts) and transferred it back to IAF HQ, he had told the Commission.
Nearly seven months after the RTI application, the Western Air Command which had transferred its application to the Air HQ informed him that the expenditure incurred during conveying the PM abroad is met by Embassy of India (Defence Attache) placed at host nation, he said.