The Central Information Commission has rejected a right to information petition seeking information on the expenses incurred by the government in providing security cover to Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah, PTI reported on Sunday.
The commission dismissed the Right To Information query, citing exemptions under the clauses of “personal information” and “safety” in the RTI Act.
The petition was filed by Deepak Juneja on July 5, 2014 before Shah was elected to the Rajya Sabha. Juneja had also asked for a list of the people that the government was providing security to.
The Union home ministry denied the information citing Sections 8(1)(g) and 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. The first section allows for the information to not be disclosed if it would endanger a person’s physical safety, and the second section exempts personal information that invades a person’s privacy and is not linked to their public activity.
The Central Information Commission initially upheld the denial of information since it was not disclosed before Parliament. Juneja challenged this CIC order in the Delhi High Court, following which the judge set it aside and told the commission to examine if the information could be exempted under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act. The commission then heard Juneja as well as the ministry again.
Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad noted in his latest order that Juneja submitted that “the grant of security cover to eminent persons under threat is the duty of the state in cases where the beneficiary holds a high office as they cannot perform their vital functions while reeling under threat”. However, Z+ security cover to private individuals must not be charged to the government, Juneja said.
“Amit Shah, who happens to be the national president of the Bhartiya Janta Party, has been granted Z+ security cover by the MHA since July 2014 despite him not being holding any constitutional or statutory office,” Juneja said, adding that he had the right to know as it was public money.
The home ministry argued that revealing the expenses would also give away the magnitude and the rigours of the protection. “Rules governing the entitlement of grant of security cover and process of threat assessment among others are framed in consultation with central security agencies, which are exempted from the purview of the RTI Act, and disclosure would nullify the exemptions,” the ministry argued.
Information Commissioner Azad said: “Judicial notice can be taken of the fact that the protectees are already facing the highest level of threat and that is why they have been accorded with the highest level of security cover.”
“The names of private Z+ protectees are personal since they do not owe the security cover to their public office but private position in life,” Azad added. “The public eminence of the private person, threat perception and the potential harm... are key determinative factors while granting security cover.”
“The right to know, in such a case, must make way for the right to privacy of the individual and the efficiency of governance since the same furthers the concept of ‘practical regime’ of the RTI as conceptualised in the preamble of the RTI Act,” Azad added.