NEW DELHI: India’s reasons for agreeing to a cost escalation by the Russian side for refurbished aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov should not be made public in national and diplomatic interest, the Defence Ministry has said in the Delhi High Court, challenging an order of the Central Information Commission.
Challenging the order of the CIC, which had asked the government to give the reasons why it had agreed to the hike, the defence ministry through a writ petition claimed the Inter Governmental Agreement between India and Russia bars the disclosure of such details and would come under the RTI Act’s exemption clause of section 8(1)(a).
“…The IGA in clause 9 specifically states the sides …Not to disclose the contents of the present agreement as well as all the correspondence and information related to its implementation without mutual consent…,” it said.
The ministry said any further information related to payments made by India or acceptance of upward revision in cost and time was not only bound by the clauses of the IGA but would also constitute a breach of parliamentary privileges and be prejudicial to the interest of the country.
The deal for purchasing the ship, rechristened INS Vikramaditya, was signed in 2004 by the then NDA government at USD 974 million. The cost was raised to the final price of USD 2.35 billion in 2010.
Information Commissioner Amitava Bhattacharya had conducted detailed hearings and heard all arguments before ordering the disclosure of information last year on a plea of activist Subhash Agrawal about cost escalation and others issues.
The court has now asked Agrawal to appear before it on the matter on April 5.
The CIC had also directed the defence ministry to disclose reasons why the country chose a refurbished warship in place of purchasing a new one and the net final cost including the expenditure on the modifications, renovations and remodelling done on the now 30-year-old ship and dates of payments made by India.
The ministry said if the details were disclosed, “cardinal relation of India and Russia” will be affected due to the violation of the agreement which will be detrimental to the relationship with a foreign state and be “prejudicial to the interest of the state”.
“The Information Commissioner failed to consider that no information bound by the IGA can be disclosed without the prior approval of the government of Russia,” the ministry said.
It said bringing to the public domain the details of the fittings, fixtures and ammunition that were used for repair, re-equipping, renovation of the warship and thereby disclosing the capability of the ship would be “prejudicial to national security and expose war preparedness of the country”.