Agnipath file a ‘secret’, cannot share info: Defence ministry reply on RTI
The reason for denying the information sought by Pune-based RTI activist, Vihar Durve, is not covered under sections 8 and 9 of the transparency law, according to RTI experts. Sections 8 and 9 list provisions under which information can be denied.
The defence ministry has refused to share details about the Agnipath scheme for military recruitment under the Right to Information (RTI), saying the file has been marked “secret”, according to a ministry letter.
The reason for denying the information sought by Pune-based RTI activist, Vihar Durve, is not covered under sections 8 and 9 of the transparency law, according to RTI experts. Sections 8 and 9 list provisions under which information can be denied. (Also Read | Nepal looks to Indian Army chief’s visit for clarity on Agnipath scheme)
On July 14, 2022, defence minister Rajnath Singh announced in a press conference the introduction of military recruitment scheme, Agnipath, in which 46,000 personnel would be hired in December 2022 and February 2023.
One-fourth of the Agniveers (recruits), who will get a monthly salary of ₹30,000 in the first year and ₹40,000 in the fourth year, would be selected for permanent commission in the armed forces. At the end of the four-year contract, Agniveers will get a corpus of ₹11 lakh, which the government said would help them create self-employment avenues or pursue higher education. The central paramilitary forces and Assam Rifles assured 10% job opportunities for Agniveers.
As the scheme was publically announced, Durve sought information on the inter-ministerial deliberations and reasons for introducing it to replace the existing recruitment scheme, which provided for a longer period of employment. In his RTI application dated July 23, 2022, Durve asked about the discussions regarding the pay packages and allowances for recruits under the scheme.
As the information officer of the department of military affairs denied giving the information about the scheme, which the defence ministry implemented from first week of August by conducing recruitment for armed forces in different parts of the country, Durve filed the first appeal with the department saying the information has been denied to him wrongly.
“The information is wrongly denied as files marked as secret cannot be a reason for denying information,” Durve said. He filed an appeal against the denial of information with the first appellate authority, Abhimany Sahoo, in the defence ministry.
Responding to his first appeal filed on August 17, Sahoo said the information has been rightly denied.
“I had gone through your aforesaid 1st RTI appeal and the information provided by the CPIO dated 29th July, 2022 with respect to your RTI application dated 11th July, 2022. In this connection, it is informed that the file on Agnipath Scheme approval has been classified as SECRET. Therefore, the response of the CPIO is in order,” he said.
India’s first chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said the classification as “confidential” or “secret” is an internal procedure of the department and cannot be used to deny information as this procedure is not mentioned under sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act.
“The information officer should have cited the specific RTI law section to deny information. Applying ‘secret’ as a reason shows that the ministry is not keen to share the reasons for starting such an important scheme,” he said.