Minis attendance in cab meetings not confidential: CIC

New Delhi: Attendance of ministers in cabinet meetings cannot be withheld from information seekers as it does not not form part of deliberations of the council of ministers, the Central Information Commission has held.

Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra directed the Cabinet Secretariat to provide attendance of all the ministers during the cabinet meetings to an RTI applicant.

The case relates to an application filed by Abhishek Shukla seeking details of cabinet meetings and list of attending and absentee ministers which was refused by the Cabinet Secretariat.

The Cabinet Secretariat provided list of meetings but refused to give attendance of ministers citing section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act which allows exemption of cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers.

During the hearing, the secretariat said information regarding attendance in cabinet meetings formed part of deliberations of council of ministers and therefore could not be disclosed in?terms?of?the exemption?provision.

The point was strongly opposed by the applicant who said the secretariat was giving this information selectively. While the information was denied to him, it was provided to another RTI applicant which means the records are not exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act.

Rejecting the reasons given by the Cabinet Secretariat, Mishra held that presence of ministers in such meetings is a "factual detail" which cannot be withheld in response to an RTI application.

Not finding suitable defence, the secretariat officials changed their position and said information is not maintained in the form it was sought.

Pulling up the officials of Cabinet Secretariat, the Chief Information Commission said, "The presence or the absence of a minister in a cabinet meeting cannot be said to be part of its deliberations.

"We do not accept the argument that the information regarding the attendance of ministers in a Cabinet meeting can be covered under the above exemption provision by any stretch of imagination."

Mishra directed the Cabinet Secretariat to provide all the information completely free of cost to the applicant.