An "irked" Central Information Commission (CIC) issued a show-cause notice to Air India's CPIO on Thursday for the "callous attitude" while denying information about the purchase price of Air India-I aircraft to ferry VVIPs like the president and the prime minister.
The national carrier, while denying an RTI applicant the details of the cost and status of the purchase of Boeing 777-300, to be used as Air India-I, did not invoke any of the RTI exemption clauses in an "inordinately delayed" response, Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha noted.
An RTI applicant had approached the commission after he failed to get a satisfactory response from Air India.
Air India has purchased two Boeing 777-300ERs, which will replace the over 25-year-old jumbo jets - B747-400s - which used to ferry the president, vice-president and the prime minister. The jets chartered by the national carrier for VVIP flights are given the call sign, Air India-I.
The two jets are part Air India's 2006 order to Boeing for 68 aircraft - 27 Dreamliners, 15 B777-300 ERs, eight B777-200 LRs and 18 B737-800s.
The aircraft have been retrofitted with additional features required for the movement of dignitaries.
When the matter came up for hearing before the CIC, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), the nodal officer for handling RTI applications in a public authority, of Air India was not present. He had, instead, delegated it to a different officer, who was caught unaware about the reasons for the delayed response.
Under the RTI Act, a response to an application should mandatorily be provided within 30 days.
The information could only be denied citing a suitable exemption clause under the RTI Act and "not merely on apprehensions and conjecture", Mr Sinha noted.
"The commission takes grave exception to the conduct of the CPIO, Air India Limited in neither having attended the hearing nor having sent any written submission with respect to the facts of the case in response to the notice of hearing," he added.
Mr Sinha said the response to the RTI application by the Air India CPIO was "grossly inappropriate" as it did not cite any exemption clause while denying the information.
"The commission is particularly irked with the gross non-application of mind displayed by the said CPIO with respect to the reply provided in para 1 of the RTI application as it has been claimed therein that the purchase agreement between Boeing and Air India is governed by confidentiality terms even so, the appellant has nowhere asked for the purchase agreement," he added.
The information commissioner said this reflected on the absolute callousness of the CPIO in perusing the contents of the RTI application.
"Notwithstanding, it is pertinent to note that applicability of neither of the exemption clauses of the RTI Act is apparent in the matter as the appellant has merely sought to know the purchase cost and the status of purchase of an aircraft," he said and directed the national carrier to submit a fresh response with "available and specific information".
The information commissioner issued a show-cause to the Air India CPIO, asking him to submit a written response as to why action should not be initiated against him under the penal provisions of the RTI Act for prima facie not providing any reply on the RTI application within the stipulated time-frame under the Act.
If the CPIO fails to give a reasonable explanation for the delay in furnishing the information, he may be slapped a penalty of up to Rs 25,000, which has to be borne by him personally.
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