Central Information Commission: While addressing the appeal upon the applicant filed to seek details of bills, invoices as received in the Ministry of External Affairs with reference to foreign visits undertaken by former and present Prime Minister of India for Financial Years 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17, the Chief Information Commissioner, Radha Krishna Mathur, directed the CPIO for the Ministry of External Affairs, to provide the details of the travel bills relating to Air India from Financial Years 2013-14 to 2016-17 to the appellant, within 30 days from the date of receipt of this order.

The applicant had filed the RTI to seek information related to the expenditures incurred in the foreign visits undertaken by the former and the present PM. It was put forth by the applicant that that he wants the general public to be informed that at what stage or with which public authority these bills/invoices are pending for payment. He further stated that unpaid bills/invoices raised by Air India are likely to raise its debt liabilities. He added that Air India is a cash-strapped airline and that the elements of financial propriety, probity and accountability are involved in making payment of these pending bills. He stated that expeditious recovery of Air India’s dues from various public authorities is the need of the hour considering tremendous financial stress of Air India. It was further added that the information could lead to improvement in finances of an enterprise of the Government; therefore this information should not be pushed aside in the name of national security.

The respondent however argued that details of amount, reference numbers, and dates of bills raised by Indian Air Force and Air India for the foreign visits undertaken by the Prime Minister is scattered across various records and files and collation of information in the manner sought by the appellant would involve searching of voluminous records by a significant number of officials which would divert the resources of the public authority from the efficient discharge of its normal functions.

Disagreeing with the contentions provided by the respondent, the CIC observed that eventually, while paying the outstanding dues to the Air India, the Ministry will have to compile the bills and invoices; therefore it is only feasible for the Ministry to provide the details to the appellant. [Commodore Lokesh K. Batra v. Central Public Information Officer, 2018 SCC OnLine CIC 20, decided on 21.02.2018]

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