CIC declines information on PM's health

Details of travel expenses of Prez, V-P and PM can be made public

The Central Information Commission, a public watchdog, has said a big “no.” However, the commission  has directed the authorities to provide information on the travel and medical expenses of President Pratibha Patil, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, the prime minister, ex-presidents and former vice-presidents during their tenure since Independence.

While pronouncing its ruling on a petition filed by Chetan Kothari of Mumbai, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said: “It is noted that there is much personal information that has been sought which could amount to an invasion of privacy. These are questions at (a) and part of (c) of Shri Kothari’s application, which ask for the specific ailments that might have afflicted the prime minister (Manmohan Singh).”

“Insofar as expenses are concerned, this is indeed information that can be disclosed since the expenses made from the public exchequer are accountable.

Personal information
However, the ailment of an individual is personal information and in our view, disclosure would indeed be in violation of the various sections of the RTI Act,” the ruling said. On the query of expenses on travel and medical bills of the president, the vice-president, the PM and the former presidents and vice-presidents, the CIC directed the CPIOs (chief public information officers) of the ministries of health, the external affairs and the defence to provide information to Kothari.

Kothari had filed applications before the president’s secretariat, the vice-president’s office and the prime minister’s office to provide information on travel and medical expenses of the president, the vice-president and the prime minister. He had also sought information on the expenses on the former presidents, vice-presidents and specific information about the ailments of Singh.

In the ruling, the CIC suggested that the government should make suitable amendments to the law (RTI Act) preventing the public from seeking personal information of the public authorities like in the United States and the United Kingdom.

No separate record
The president’s office had informed the applicant that the office did not keep record of any medical expenses of the president or the former presidents. “As far as the medical expenses are concerned, no separate record on the expenditure on the President of India is maintained,” the president’s secretariat said.

It further said “most of it is borne by the ministry of external affairs and the ministry of defence and the same is not readily available in the president’s secretariat and it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority in collecting the same, which would be detrimental to the normal functioning of the office without serving any public interest.”

The authorities said the foreign tours of dignitaries were handled by the ministry of external affairs, and the domestic tours by the ministry of defence. Only they could provide information on these expenses, they said.

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