CIC asks Indian Defence Ministry to revisit refusal to disclose records on ‘Agnipath’ scheme

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the defence ministry of India to revisit its refusal to disclose records related to the Agnipath military recruitment scheme under the Right to Information Act on the ground that the files were “secret”.

In response to an RTI application filed by activist Vihar Durve, who sought records of deliberations on the Agnipath scheme, the defence ministry had said the files were classified as “secret” and could not be disclosed according to Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act.

The section referred to allows a public authority to withhold information, the disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign States or lead to the incitement of an offence.

Durve argued that the word “secret” is nowhere in the exemption clause under which information could be denied to an applicant.

He said merely stating that a piece of information was secret was not enough to deny the information by invoking Section 8(1)(a) of the Act.

Section 22 of the RTI Act also mandates that the law will override anything inconsistent contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or any instrument having effect under any law other than this Act.

“Perusal of the records further revealed that that the respondent (CPIO, Defence Ministry) had denied the information but they failed to explain as to how the exemptions claimed by them would be applicable in the instant case,” Information Commissioner Vinod Kumar Tiwari said.

The respondent is directed to revisit the RTI application and provide the revised information or reply as per the applicable exemption of the RTI Act, he said.

The Agnipath scheme allows youngsters between 17.5 years and 21 years to serve in the armed forces for four years.

The best among the Agniveers, up to 25 per cent in each batch, will be selected for regular cadre to serve for another 15 years, based on a transparent and merit-based assessment.

On completion of the engagement period of four years, Agniveers will be paid a one-time ‘Seva Nidhi’ package which shall comprise their contribution including accrued interest thereon and matching contribution from the government equal to the accumulated amount of their contribution including interest, according to the scheme document.