The armed forces have made a fresh appeal to be excluded from the Right to Information or RTI Act, saying that they have not only found instances where the transparency law could be harming national security but compromising the chain of command as well.
This time the appeal has come in the form of a proposal filed before the government's Committee of Secretaries which includes the top officials of prominent ministries like Home, Defence, Revenue, Information Technology, as well as the Cabinet Secretary.
The Department of Military Affairs, a part of the Defence Ministry, had sent a similar proposal to the government last year. The push had been renewed by the country's first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat citing the security of the nation, the need to defend it from external aggression and disturbance of peace and tranquillity within the country. An early bid to have the armed forces exempt from the law after it was introduced in 2005 did not fructify.
In the proposal submitted earlier this year, the armed forces - the army, navy, air force and coast guard - say want to be included in the exempted list of agencies like security and intelligence organisations.
The armed forces say that seemingly innocuous information collected in parts via the RTI Act could provide significant insight to adversaries, jeopardising national security.
They have also complained about "a disturbing trend" of armed force personnel seeking information for individual matters and other issues which have no public interest - and find a new channel to air their grievances apart from the prescribed system.
According to them, an analysis of 57,000 RTI applications received between 2017 and 2020 found that only 986 were rejected which sought information on operational equipment, border encounters, movement of troops and operational details of internal security.
Most of the queries and information were sought after occurrences of any event of national ramifications like surgical strikes, elections, defence acquisitions and creation of new policies, they said.
The armed forces have also pointed to how many paramilitary forces are already exempt from RTI like the Assam Rifles but come under the operational control of the army which creates a conflict.
However, opinion is divided within the government over the decision to exempt the armed forces.
The Personnel Ministry says a general exemption is not possible and the Law Ministry says the exemption would lead to the dilution of the vital transparency law.
The proposal is currently being considered by the Committee of Secretaries for being placed with recommendations before Prime Minister Narendra Modi who will take a final call.