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Veterans urge PM against exempting defence services from purview of RTI Act

Last year, CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat had made a presentation to the government making a pitch for defence services to be exempted from the Act stating that none of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) are under its purview and defence services, being even more sensitive, should be fully exempted too, officials said. File

Last year, CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat had made a presentation to the government making a pitch for defence services to be exempted from the Act stating that none of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) are under its purview and defence services, being even more sensitive, should be fully exempted too, officials said. File | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

An association of ex-servicemen, family pensioners and next-of-kin of the armed forces personnel who laid down their lives for the country and were recognised by the government, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against any consideration by the government to remove the armed forces from the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI).

“The RTI has remained a powerful tool with the veterans and serving community and their families to obtain information and documents concerning their service and pensioner issues, and also to move the authorities into action with respect to routine grievances,” Brig. Kartar Singh (Retd), president of the Indian Ex-Services League (IESL), said in a letter dated May 24 while referring to reports that the government planned to remove the defence services from the ambit of RTI Act 2005. “It (RTI Act) has ensured maximum transparency in official establishments dealing with such cases. Even innocuous documents such as medical board proceedings concerning disabled soldiers and old service records of veterans are only made available through the RTI Act.”

“In fact, the introduction of transparency through the RTI Act has resulted in a massive reduction of litigation wherein many issues get resolved after disclosure under the Act, thereby obliterating the requirement of approaching Courts”Brig. Kartar Singh (ret’d)Indian Ex-Services League (IESL)

Requesting that defence services are not be placed in Schedule 2 of the RTI Act, 2005, the letter said adequate protection is already available in Sections 8 and 9 of the Act to “hold back information related to operational and security-related issues.”

“In fact, the introduction of transparency through the RTI Act has resulted in a massive reduction of litigation wherein many issues get resolved after disclosure under the Act, thereby obliterating the requirement of approaching Courts,” Brig. Singh stated in the letter.

While the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the three Service Chiefs are Patrons of IESL, the Defence Minister is its Patron-in Chief.

Last year, CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat had made a presentation to the government making a pitch for defence services to be exempted from the Act stating that none of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) are under its purview and defence services, being even more sensitive, should be fully exempted too, officials said. “There is no decision as yet by the Government on the issue,” a defence source said.

Blow to transparency

Commenting on the issue, a former defence official who dealt with these matters said any such move will be a huge blow to transparency and will lead to an exponential increase in litigation and grievances. “And any irregularities in defence procurements would also go under the carpet, besides massive discrepancies in promotions. Already they are so opaque and have faced so many strictures by the courts,” the official said speaking on condition of anonymity while noting that the excuse of national security isn’t tenable as such security and operational information is already exempted under the Act.

Further, Brig. Singh wrote that denying such a right of a powerful public-oriented tool to military personnel, veterans, military widows and their families would place them at a sharp disadvantage vis-a-vis other citizens and would also result in massive increase in litigation with affected persons approaching judicial forums for minor issues thereby involving the “government and the defence services eternally into unnecessary red-tape, manpower and financial burden.”

Talking of the disbursal of pensions for veterans and dependents, the letter stated that the system of redressal of grievances “remains in shambles” to say the least and the burgeoning number of cases in the Armed Forces Tribunal and other Courts is a “direct pointer to this reality.” “The only way to know our fate and processing of our claims is to approach the above offices through RTI Act 2005,” it said.

“It would also attract adverse publicity since other democratic and developed countries with whom India seeks a place in the international arena do not have such exemptions for their defence forces, the letter added giving examples of the U.S. and U.K.,” he added.


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Printable version | Jun 10, 2022 2:21:03 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/veterans-urge-pm-against-exempting-defence-services-from-purview-of-rti-act/article65464201.ece