The Department of Military Affairs (DMA), one of five key departments under the defence ministry, recently made a strong push for exemption of the armed forces from the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005, people aware of the development told ET.
The DMA proposal is learnt to have come up for examination at the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), which also consulted other stakeholder departments on the matter.
The Centre, however, is yet to take a decision on the subject.
ET has learnt that representations have come from the DMA seeking that the armed forces be included in the second schedule of the RTI Act, 2005 in view of “national security”.
An email query sent to the DMA remained unanswered till press time.
The second schedule of the RTI Act is powered by Section 24, which exempts intelligence and security organisations of the country from disclosing information under the Act.
The DMA, set up in 2019 and chaired by the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, deals with the three armed forces and is tasked with promoting jointness in procurement, training and staffing across the services, besides integration of operations.
While similar consultations held in 2006 had advised against such an exemption, a window may be opening up this time round as the DMA has cited misuse of the RTI Act to gather inside information on the armed force as reason.
In consultations held so far, it was felt that an exemption model may be considered for the armed forces provided personnel related grievances are kept within the purview of the RTI Act, 2005.
A sizeable number of personnel grievances are recorded annually from the armed forces.
The second schedule lists out 26 “intelligence and security organisations established by the central government” that have been kept out of the RTI Act’s purview for security reasons. These include the Intelligence Bureau, RAW, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Directorate of Enforcement, Narcotics Control Bureau, which are on the second schedule, besides the BSF, CRPF, ITBP, National Security Guards, Special Protection Group, National Security Council Secretariat, the NTRO and CBI, among others.
The central government has the authority to amend the second schedule from time to time, thereby adding, removing or substituting organisations present in the said schedule. A similar provision has been given to the state legislature under Section 24 (4) of the Act.
However, any such notification for exempting organsiations must be placed before Parliament/state Assembly for scrutiny.
The inclusion of the CBI in 2011 was a hotly debated issue which landed in court.
The issue of exempting the armed forces has been there ever since the RTI Act came into effect.
The 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission under Congress leader Veerappa Moily had also made a case for it in its report in 2006.
“The Commission feels that armed forces should be included in the list of exempted organisations (second schedule of the Act) because almost all activities of the armed forces would be covered under the exemption 8(a)”, the 2nd ARC report said.
RTI activists, however, were opposed to the move and argued that most of the work of the armed forces was already exempt and, hence, there was no good reason to take whole organisations out of the purview of the RTI, especially given that the armed forces employ such a huge number of people.
The DoPT had also earlier taken an unfavorable view of a full exemption on similar grounds—that of employee considerations.
This time, however, the various arms of the government are said to be reconsidering their position.