The department of military affairs (DMA) has sent a proposal to the government seeking exemption of the armed forces from the Right to Information Act, 2005, citing implications for national security, people familiar with the developments said on Friday.
The DMA wants the defence services to be included in the Second Schedule of the law that lists intelligence and security organisations exempted from most transparency obligations placed on public authorities under the law, said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named. He said the proposal sent last month was being examined by the department of personnel and training (DoPT).
RTI campaigner Venkatesh Nayak said the DMA proposal was “extremely distressing” and the DMA should have made efforts to implement the RTI Act “rather than resist it”.
“If its proposal is approved, this will become another severe body blow dealt to the regime of transparency established by the Act,” he said.
Created in December 2019, DMA is one of the five verticals in the defence ministry, apart from the departments of defence, defence production, defence research and development and ex-service welfare. DMA is headed by chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, who is steering the military theaterisation drive.
“There have been instances of the RTI Act being misused to obtain inside information at the behest of inimical elements. We may not give out the number of soldiers deployed in a sector in response to an RTI query. But then we get queries on quantities of ration, fuel and vehicles. Responses to such questions can help those elements calculate backwards,” he said.
A previous attempt by the armed forces in 2006 to get into the exempted category did not materialise. The government had then countered that the armed forces were free to reject information requests which, in their opinion, had security implications.
The second official cited above said there was no reason to keep the defence forces out when even organisations like the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Central Industrial Security Force are exempted under Section 24 of the Act, which empowers the government to place security and intelligence organisations in the exempted list.
A total of 26 organisations are exempted under Section 24. But they do have to respond to RTI requests in case of information sought in respect of allegations of violation of corruption and human rights violations.