NTRO uses national security shield to deny information
NEW DELHI: In the name of national security, NTRO has refused to part with any information about its purchase of sensitive equipment and other irregularities that are being probed by the government. Replying to an order by the chief information commissioner asking it to furnish information as demanded in RTI applications, NTRO has said that giving any such information would jeopardize its operational work compromising nation's security.
Earlier, the chief information commissioner had threatened to initiate action against NTRO for not giving information about purchase of satellite communication systems and other equipment as sought by whistleblower and former NTRO employee, V K Mittal. An internal inquiry and an audit by the CAG have both concluded that there have been irregularities in procurement and appointments in NTRO.
NTRO has said in its reply that the information sought in the RTI applications "could have serious ramifications for national security in case the information is placed in public domain". While NTRO, as an intelligence agency, is exempt from disclosing information under Section 24 of the RTI Act, in this case it had been directed last year by its then first appellate authority and NTRO controller of administration R N Gupta to provide the information sought.
The agency ignored the order and filed a plea before the information commission in May to cancel the order. As per RTI Act's provisions though, any such appeal can be filed only within 90 days of the order. This delay had led the chief information commissioner to ask NTRO to uphold the order asking it to make the information available.
The agency says that there were lapses on its part in interpreting the RTI provisions "relating to filing of appeals before central information commission", but adds that this cannot become the basis for disclosing information which compromises national security. It also claims that NTRO's top brass was not aware of Gupta's order and that its officials were in the dark that the RTI Act allowed them to file an appeal before the information commission against the order of Gupta, their senior administrative officer.
As NTRO's first appellate authority and controller of administration, Gupta had asked the agency to provide information in cases related to corruption and other irregularities. An audit conducted by CAG too concluded that there were large scale irregularities in appointment and procurement in NTRO. The agency was formed after the Kargil war to provide technical inputs to all intelligence agencies but has often found itself competing with them, leading to suggestions that NTRO and RAW are merely duplicating each other's capabilities.