The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that the names of people receiving personal security cover from the Government of India cannot be disclosed due to the concern of privacy and the overriding “public interest”. CIC decision dated August 20, 2018 has resulted from an appeal filed by RTI applicant Deepak Juneja challenging the withholding of the names of people receiving state provided security and its type, by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).Earlier, the Delhi High Court had remanded the case to CIC for fresh consideration by the CIC.
The RTI application was filed on July 5, 2014 which cited media report stating that Amit Shah,the national president of theBhartiya Janata Party, would be provided Z-Plus security cover by the Government. In this backdrop, the information sought by the applicant comprised the following questions:
(a) Whether private citizens, who are not holding any public office are entitled to such security cover;
(b) The rules and regulations governing the entitlement and determination of type of security cover to be given to a person;
(c) The estimated monthly or annual cost of providing the Z Plus security cover to Mr. Amit Shah.
This information was denied by the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the MHA, citing exemption clause (g) & (j) of the Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, 2005. Under the RTI Act, Section 8(1)(g) exempts disclosure of information which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes. 8(1)(j) exempts information which relates to personal information unrelated with public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual. Section 8 also contains a proviso which states that “the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person”.
The applicant challenged this order before of the First Appellate Authority (FAA) in the same ministry who upheld the decision of CPIO and elaborated upon the exemptions cited. The FAA stated that the modalities of assessment of threat and the categorisation of security provided have been framed in consultation with the security agencies and they are exempted under the RTI Act. The order further noted that the details of the types of security provided would also reveal the nature of security arrangements since the categorisation of a ‘protectee’ indicates the level of security provided. This information was also declared protected as security categorisation is made on the basis of inputs provided by the security agencies that are exempt under the Act.
The second appeal before the CIC against the order passed by the FAA was rejected. The applicant finally challenged the rejection of his second appeal in the Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court set aside the order and remanded it back to the CIC for fresh consideration. The Delhi High Court noted that the CIC has not addressed the controversy as they have merely proceeded on the basis that the information sought was not disclosed to the Parliament. The Court had held that if it is found that any of the information sought by the petitioner could not be denied to the Parliament or State Legislature, the same would have to be disclosed to the information seeker. The CIC was required to examine whether the information sought was exempted under the Act which has not been done.
Deepak Juneja had argued that mere knowledge of type of security does not jeopardise any individual’s security and that people have an inherent right to know who their money is being spent upon and how much.
Information Commissioner, Yashovardhan Azad, has again rejected the appeal seeking disclosure of the information and thus upheld the decision of the Public Authority. To negate the contention of the appellant that since the information sought could not be denied to Parliament, he is entitled to access the same, the Commission relied upon the answer given in Rajya Sabha by MoS, Ministry of Home Affairs on December 9, 2015 wherein Minister stated that details of individuals, who are being provided security cover, by Central Government, cannot be disclosed in public interest.
Read the ruling by the Central Information Commission.