PTI News: New Delhi: Tuesday, May 2, 2017.
The President's Secretariat has sought relief from the Delhi High Court from an order of the Central Information Commission directing it to disclose the security concerns it has raised against allowing a residential complex in the tony neighbourhood of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The case relates to the use of a 9.26-hectare (22.9 acres) dairy farm at Sardar Patel Marg in the close vicinity of the Rashtrapati Bhavan for residential purposes by Edward Keventer (Successors) Private Ltd (EKSPL).
The Union government had in 2010 raised security concerns against the project before the Delhi High Court, but was rejected. The high court had then said the master plan permits the use of the land for residential areas and that there were many other residential premises in the area.
Security agencies had also objected to the proposal of raising the height of the complex from four-storeyed to eight-storeyed, saying it would pose a security threat to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
RTI activist Subhash Agrawal had sought details of the objections from the President's Secretariat which refused to disclose the details, saying these were classified information received from intelligence organisations and were exempted from disclosure under Section 24(1) of the Right To Information (RTI) Act.
The objections raised by the President's Secretariat were rejected by Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur, who ordered the disclosure of the information on the grounds that there were allegations of corruption.
Under the RTI Act, the exemption from disclosure given to security agencies under Section 24(1) does not apply if an applicant is seeking any material pertaining to human rights violations and corruption which is "held by" or "under the control" of these organisations.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had claimed that there was corruption in the matter.
In its petition filed in the high court recently challenging the CIC order, the President's Secretariat has, among other reasons, said the disclosure cannot be permitted as the exemption from the section is attracted only in cases of allegation of corruption and human rights violation "in/by" the security agencies.
The secretariat also said the CIC "has mixed the security issue with the alleged corruption issue and has thus depicted a complete non-application of mind".
Former Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra had underlined that Section 24 of the RTI Act does not makes any distinction between allegations of corruption on the basis whether it is made against the employees of the exempted organisation or others.
The RTI Act is not about seeking information which pertains to a public authority but about the information which is "held by" it or "under its control".
It may or may not be about human rights violations and corruption within or by the security agencies as the exemption covers such information held by them.
Agrawal had said since allegations of corruption have been levelled, the information cannot be withheld under Section 24(1) of the RTI Act.
"The information sought...is not covered under Section 24 (1) of the RTI Act," Chief Information Commissioner Mathur had said.
A single judge bench of the Delhi High Court had in 2010 allowed EKSPL to develop the land for dairy after depositing conversion charges of Rs 1,200 crore with the government.
The central government had opposed the conversion citing security concerns and said the area in question comes within the vicinity of the President's Estate in Lutyens' Bungalow Zone and involves security issues.
The Union government had approached a division bench of the high court on the ground that the security issues should have been weighed in by the single judge bench of the court but the same has been totally brushed aside.
The division bench had said the master plan permits the use of the land for residential areas and there were many other residential premises in the area.