The Centre has moved the Delhi high court against a CIC's order imposing a fine of Rs. 25,000 on the external affairs ministry's Principal Information Officer (PIO) for delay in giving a Kerala MLA some information on Indo-Russia trade agreement.
On the Centre's appeal against the Central Information Commission's (CIC) order, a bench of Justice GS Sistani issued notice to Kerala MLA PC George and slated the matter for further hearing on August 17.
George, an MLA from Kerala's Poonjar assembly segment and also the chief whip of the state's ruling party, had sought to know from the ministry's Principal Information Officer in 2008 if India had any trade agreement with Russia on basis of special payment arrangements like Rupee-Rouble debt agreement.
With the ministry denying the information to the MLA on the ground that the issue involved a foreign government and required its consent for divulging the information, the MLA challenged the ministry's refusal before the CIC, through his counsel Wills Mathew.
The CIC, subsequently in January 2010, asked the ministry to provide the requisite information to George by February 2010, but following the ministry's failure to comply by its order, it imposed the fine on PIO on July 11, last year.
In its plea to the high court, the Centre challenged the CIC's order saying the information sought by George, pertains to bilateral agreement with a foreign government and it required the time-consuming process of taking the foreign government's consent before making any disclosure.
"The Rupee-Rouble Debt Agreement, being an inter-governmental agreement binds both parties legally, and it is implicit that content of this agreement, being financial in nature, would require formal consent of the other legal signatory," said the Centre in its petition to the high court.
In its petition, the MEA said it had explained to the CIC the protocol of obtaining formal consent from another country on disclosure of bilateral agreements which are confidential.
But the CIC "failed to take into consideration that the MEA PIO would not have been in a position to bring it to CIC's notice about the formal consent of Russian Government," it added.
George had sought the information on whether from India had any trade agreement with Russia on basis of special payment arrangements like Rupee-Rouble debt agreement.
He had also sought some documents including the Letter of Exchange between the two countries in 1993 and 2007.
He had sought the information alleging that the Kerala was entering into an agreement with Rosoborn Export Corporation in Russian to set up a Titanium Sponge factory in Kollam district without public tender and that would result in huge loss to the state exchequer and also extraction of minerals in the state.
The ministry, however, in August 2008 denied him the information saying the RTI Act exempted it from disclosing the detail as the agreement was between two countries.
The MLA had moved the CIC challenging the denial of information to him and the apex transparency panel had directed the government to provide him the requisite details by February 20, 2010.
But as the META still failed to provide the information to the MLA, he brought it to the notice of CIC in September 2010, and the CIC imposed the penalty on the MEA's PIO.