A copy of the Pratyush Sinha committee report on various aspects of the agreement between ANTRIX and M/s DEVAS Multimedia Pvt. was denied u/s 8(1)(a) and (h) - CIC: order upheld as enquiry concerning the report is in progress
This matter pertains to an RTI application dated 22.6.2012 filed by the Appellant, seeking a copy of the Pratyush Sinha committee report as well as a copy of the government order debarring former ISRO chief from any further government appointments. The CPIO responded on 11.10.2012 and denied copy of the above report under section 8 (1) (a) and (h) of the RTI Act on the ground that the information contained therein would affect the strategic and scientific interests of the country and since investigations related to the matter were in progress, disclosure of the report would impede the ongoing processes. The CPIO, however, stated that the conclusions and recommendations of the Pratyush Sinha committee report were placed in ISRO and DOS website. With regard to the government order concerning the former ISRO chief, the CPIO stated that this information was exempted from disclosure under section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act as the investigations related to the matter were in progress and disclosure of the information would impede the ongoing processes. Not satisfied with the response of the CPIO, the Appellant filed an appeal to the First Appellate Authority on 18.12.2012. In his order dated 29.1.2013, the FAA upheld the decision of the CPIO. The Appellant filed second appeal dated 29.04.2013 to the CIC, which was received by the Commission on 7.5.2013. He questioned the denial of information under section 8 (1) (a) and (h) of the RTI Act and stated that disclosure of the information sought by him was in larger public interest.
2. We heard the submissions of the representative of the Appellant and the Respondents. The representative of the Appellant questioned denial of information by the Respondents and reiterated that its disclosure was in larger public interest. She argued that such disclosure would not prejudice the scientific interests of the country and that lapses on the part of officials, unearthed by the Pratyush Sinha committee report, should be made public.
3. The Respondents submitted that the conclusions and recommendations of the Pratyush Sinha committee report were placed on their website. They reiterated their decision to deny copy of the complete report on the ground that it discusses in detail the decision making processes of the Department of Space and the technologies for GSAT 6 and 6 A, which also have defence applications. Accordingly, its disclosure would prejudicially affect the strategic and scientific interests of the State. The Respondents stated that some enquiries concerning the subject matter of the report are also in progress. In this context, they mentioned that the Economic Offences Wing of the CBI has enquired into the matter and a case has also been registered. The Respondents further submitted that M/s DEVAS Multimedia Pvt. Ltd. has taken the matter to the International Court of Arbitration. They also referred to a case that they are contesting in the framework of the bilateral agreement on Promotion and Protection of Investments with Mauritius. According to them, disclosure of the report would harm the interests of the public authority in the above cases. In view of the foregoing, the Respondents submitted that the Pratyush Sinha committee report should not be disclosed.
4. The representative of the Appellant stated that the Respondents should have offered the above explanations to the Appellant in the reply of the CPIO, rather than giving a short answer to deny the information. She prayed that the Respondents be directed to convey the above to the Appellant. She was informed that the submission made by the Respondents would find a mention in the Commission’s order and, therefore, it was not necessary for it to be conveyed separately by the Respondents to the Appellant.
5. In respect of the queries of the RTI application regarding government order debarring the former ISRO Chief from any further government appointments, the Respondents submitted that an order was issued. However, the former ISRO Chief submitted a representation, which is still under process. Therefore, they are not in a position to give a final reply on the issue. They, however, stated that they will convey the interim position to the Appellant.
6. We have considered the records and the submissions made by both the parties before us. In so far as disclosure of the Pratyush Sinha Committee report is concerned, we note that a good deal of information concerning the ANTRIXDEVAS deal has been put in the public domain by the Respondents through the following documents placed on the ISRO and DOS website:
(a) Report of the High Powered Review Committee on Various Aspects of the Agreement Between ANTRIX and M/s DEVAS Multimedia Pvt. Ltd. (Volume I) (Main Report).
(b) Chapter 6 on Conclusions and Recommendations of the Report of the High Level Team (Pratyush Sinha Committee).
(c) A Statement of the High Powered Review Committee and High Level Team on ANTRIXDEVAS Agreement Status of Follow up Actions (February 4, 2012).
The above documents cover, inter alia, information regarding the lapses that occurred, action recommended against the concerned officials and steps taken by the Government.
7. Taking into account the submissions made by the Respondents (paragraph 3 above) and the fact that some enquiries concerning the subject matter of the report are in progress, we uphold their decision to invoke Section 8(1)(a) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence; and (h) of the RTI Act to deny disclosure of the full report of the Pratyush Sinha Committee. Further, as stated by the Respondents, the matter has also given rise to commercial disputes, to which they are a party in the two cases mentioned above. In this context, it needs to be noted that the agreement was between M/s ANTRIX Corporation Limited and M/s DEVAS Multimedia Pvt. Ltd. ANTRIX, as mentioned on its website, is the marketing arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation and plays a pivotal role in delivering space systems and services. Therefore, the statement of the Respondents that disclosure of the full report would compromise their interest in the above mentioned cases, cannot be discounted.
8. In view of the foregoing, we would not interfere with the decision of the Respondents not to disclose the full report of the Pratyush Sinha Committee.
9. With regard to the queries regarding the government order concerning the former ISRO Chief, we direct the CPIO to convey the latest position in the matter to the Appellant, within fifteen days of the receipt of this order, under intimation to the Commission.
10. With the direction in paragraph 9 and above observations, the appeal is disposed of.
11. Copies of this order be given free of cost to the parties.
Citation: Shri Anil Bairwal v. Department of Space in File No. CIC/LS/A/2013/001169/SH