‘Secret file’: Govt refuses to share deliberation details behind Agnipath scheme

Updated on Sep 10, 2022 07:50 PM IST

The Defence Ministry denied information sought by Pune based activist Vihar Durve under the Right to Information (RTI) Act

RTI activists claimed that the information on Agnipath scheme is wrongly denied. (File Photo)
RTI activists claimed that the information on Agnipath scheme is wrongly denied. (File Photo)

The Defence Ministry has refused to share details of the inter-ministerial deliberations behind the Agnipath scheme for military recruitment sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, saying the file has been marked as “secret”, according to a letter from the ministry.

The reason for denying the information sought by Pune based RTI activist, Vihar Durve, is not covered under Section 8 and 9 of the transparency law, according to RTI experts. The Sections 8 and 9 provide provisions under which information can be denied to an application.

On July 14, 2022, defence minister Rajnath Singh in a press conference announced the introduction of the military recruitment scheme, Agnipath, in which 46,000 personnel will be hired in December 2022 and February 2023.

One-fourth of Agniveers, who will get a monthly salary of 30,000 in the first year and 40,000 in the fourth year, will 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 to create self-employment avenues or pursue higher education. The central para-military forces and the Assam Rifles have assured 10% job opportunities for Agniveers.

Durve sought information on the inter-ministerial deliberations and reasons for introducing Agnipath scheme to replace the ongoing recruitment scheme, which provided for longer period of military employment. In his RTI application dated July 23, 2022, Durve also asked about the discussion regarding the pay package and allowances for recruits under the scheme, who would be called Agniveers.

As the information officer of the Department of Military Affairs denied giving the information about the scheme, which the Defence ministry implemented from the 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 (Central Public Information Officer) 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 the information as this procedure is not mentioned under Section 8 and 9 of the RTI Act.

“The information officer should have cited the specific RTI law section to deny information. Apply secret as a reason shows that the ministry is not keen to share the reasons for starting such an important scheme,” he said.

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    Chetan Chauhan is National Affairs Editor. A journalist for over two decades, he has written extensively on social sector and politics with special focus on environment and political economy.

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