Despite being told by the Defence Ministry to comply with the Right to Information (RTI) Act until the Government decides on an exemption request for the three armed services, Army chief General J J Singh has decided that the Army will not answer to the law even in the interim.
An order (Number 17732/6) issued on November 28, signed by Col Ajay Shah of the Military Secretary (MS) branch, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, says: “The COAS (Chief of Army Staff) has approved the proposal of MS Branch that till a formal ruling is received from the MoD on the subject of exemption of armed forces from the RTI Act, status quo be maintained as regards provisioning of information of any such nature on MS matters...The COAS has also directed that information pertaining to individual cases would also not be released. Such cases will be taken up with the appropriate authority.”
This order comes 10 days after the MS Branch proposed to the Army Chief’s secretariat that information pertaining to “processing of commissioning, choice of arms...posting and promotions, complaints, nomination(s)...cannot be promulgated in the public domain because of sensitivities involved.”
The MS Branch said it would not comment on the “confidential circular.” General Singh, on an official trip to Egypt and Nigeria, was not available for comment.
Currently, the Army is under the full purview of the RTI Act. A scrutiny of Schedule I reveals that there are enough safeguards built in to withhold information on sensitive matters in view of national security considerations.
When contacted, Aruna Roy, member of the National Advisory Council who played a key role in drafting the law, told The Indian Express: “Security is already covered under Section 8 of the Act. Contracts and buying should be subject to scrutiny since it is in the public interest to know where corruption is taking place. The armed services are no more sanctified than any other agency in the government. This is taxpayers’ money we are talking about.”
The Army’s argument has been that if intelligence agencies like the IB, Central paramilitary forces like the Assam Rifles, the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force and CRPF, can be exempt—listed in Schedule II—it should also be kept out of the law’s purview.
This exemption, however, still makes it compulsory for all agencies listed under the schedule to provide information on matters concerning corruption and human rights violations.
Tuesday’s Army order was issued to DG Ceremonial & Welfare Lt Gen Rana Kapur, Director HRC, the Army Liaison Cell and the Army’s Colonel-rank publicity on deputation to the Defence Ministry, who are all part of the RTI infrastructure in force.