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RTI: Information CRPF human rights violation in Chhattisgarh extra-judicial killings DENIED #WTFnews

By – Venkatesh Nayak
In July 2012 I had filed two requests for information under the Right to Information Act, 2005 ( Act) with the Central Reserve Police Force () demanding information about two incidents of extra-judicial killing in which their personnel were involved. I had filed these requests within 10 days of a CRPF press release claiming that 18 deaths had occurred during their operations in Silger-Chintalnar area of State (1st attachment). According to media reports some of the deceased were juveniles as young as 12-15 years old. The Union Minister for Tribal Affairs is said to have condemned these incidents and the Home Ministry is said to have sought reports from the CRPF on this incident. But interest in this matter died down soon after with little reporting in the national media.
As the CRPF is notified as a security and intelligence organisation under Schedule 2 read with Section 24 of the RTI Act, I had claimed on the basis of the published media reports that the extra-judicial killings amounted to allegations of human rights violations and that all information that I sought must be disclosed under the proviso given below Section 24. As both the Public Information Officer (PIO) and the First Appellate Authority of the CRPF denied access to all information, I filed two second appeals with the Central Information Commission (CIC) in August 2012. The two matters were heard first after more than a year of my submitting the RTI applications in August 2013. The final hearing took place in September 2013 and the matter was reserved for decision. The CIC has given its decision agreeing with my contention that the extra-judicial killings did amount to allegations of human rights violation however access to almost all information except on one point were denied on the basis of various exemption clauses in Section 8(1) of the RTI Act (2nd attachment). While the decision was issued on 14 February 2014, I received a copy of the decision only last week – more than a month of the date of the CIC’s decision.
What information did I ask from the CRPF?

In my first RTI application dated 5th July, 2012 I sought the following information:
“(i)     The title of laws (Central and/or State) under which the CRPF is authorised to conduct operations, armed with weapons, in Chhattisgarh;

(ii)   A clear photocopy of any document or record authorising CRPF personnel to conduct operations, armed with weapons, in the State of Chhattisgarh;

(iii) A clear photocopy of any warrant or order or any official document authorising CRPF personnel to open fire with their firearms during operations in the State of Chhattisgarh;

(iv)  A list of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)/instructions/guidelines/communications issued till date by the CRPF to its personnel conducting operations in Chhattisgarh regarding the use of firearms. Please indicate the topic/subject-matter, date of issuance and the designation of the signatory officer;

(v)    A clear photocopy of each of the SOPs/instructions/guidelines/communications  referred to at para #(iv) above;

(vi)  The total number of CRPF personnel who participated in the operations conducted at Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh (please provide specific figures for each operation); and

(vii)      The total number of bullets fired by CRPF personnel during the operations conducted at Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh (please provide specific figures for each operation).”

In my 2nd RTI application dated 6th July 2012 (to overcome the 500 word limit on RTI applications mentioned in the Central RTI Rules) I sought the following information:
      “(i)  The complete text of the intelligence inputs received by the CRPF from any source about the situation/developments in Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh        on the basis of which the operations, cited in the aforementioned press release, were launched;

(ii)   A list of all reports along with annexures, if any, submitted by the CRPF to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs clearly indicating the subject-matter of the report and the date of despatch after the said operations in Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh, till date;

(iii) A clear photocopy of all reports along with annexures, if any, referred to at para #(ii) above;

(iv)  A clear photocopy of the list of reports/documents/papers and any information in material form furnished by the CRPF to the State Government of Chhattisgarh in relation to the said operations in Silger and Chintalnar ; and

(v)    A clear photocopy of the order/warrant issued or decision taken by CRPF to launch an internal inquiry into the said operations in Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh along with related file notings;

(vi)  A clear photocopy of all documents containing details of the procedure to be adopted for the purpose of conducting an inquiry into the actions of CRPF personnel involved in operations of the kind undertaken at Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh.”

What is problematic with the CIC’s decision?
W  With deepest respect to the wisdom of the CIC, I must say that there are several problems with this decision and as an appellant it is my right to voice them publicly more so because the CIC is the last forum of appeal under the RTI Act.
     1)  Soon after submitting my RTI applications and apprehending that the CRPF may reject them in toto, I sent a copy of both RTI applications to the CIC stating that I have a right to be heard on this matter within 45 days of making my RTI requests. According to theproviso under Section 24 of the RTI Act the CIC may order disclosure of information about allegations of human rights violations from a public authority notified under Schedule 2 within 45 days. However the CIC rejected my contention and advised me to wait for the first and second appeal process to be completed. Now that the CIC has agreed at para #3 of its decision that there is enough material to establish that the allegations of human rights violations against the CRPF exist, my right to receive the information within 45 days or at least have the matter adjudicated within 45 days stands deniedThe whole purpose of Parliament stipulating a deadline of 45 days for disclosing information about allegations of human rights violation within a time limit of 45 days is defeated by the actions of the CIC. Unless such cases are dealt with and disposed of out of turn the deadline mentioned in Section 24 will remain useless.
     2) I had argued that the CRPF cannot claim the protection of Section 24 read with Schedule 2 and also the exemptions granted in Section 8(1) to deny access to information as that would amount to overkill. The purpose of Section 24 is to insulate security and intelligence organisations from the ordinary obligations of disclosure of information like other public authorities. However where the information clearly relates to an allegation of human rights violation it must be disclosed. This intention of Parliament is clearly mentioned in the detailed discussions on the RTI Bill when it was being vetted by the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension in 2005 (see para #32.3 in the 3rd attachment). The original RTI Bill tabled by the Union Government did not make an exception for human rights violations. It was introduced on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which agreed to the civil society demand on this issue. The language of para #32.3 is clear: there must be no blanket exclusion for security and intelligence organisations, there must be some scope for providing information about allegations of human rights violations for the purpose of establishing accountability. By granting the protection of various exemptions under Section 8(1) it must be said that the CIC has provided blanket exemption to the CRPF much against the will of Parliament. This is hugely problematic. If cases involving human rights violations are decided so late and then when information is denied on the basis of other exemptions it only helps strengthen impunity for the perpetrators of the alleged extra-judicial killings. I had argued this in detail in my subsequent pleadings before the CIC which have received only cursory treatment in the decision (4th attachment).
     3) I had brought it to the notice of the CIC that the inquiry launched by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into these incidents based on complaints received from a Delhi-based lawyer activist and another citizen from Mumbai had been dragging on for too long and that the State Government appointed magisterial inquiry was also progressing at snail’s pace. It was all the more important to order release of information in public interest. I had drawn the attention of the CIC during the final hearing that a ruling must be made on the applicability of Section 8(2) to this case. However the CIC has not weighed the public interest served by disclosure against the interests protected under Section 8(1) while giving its decision, despite my written and verbal pleadings. This is also hugely problematic as an important element of adjudication has been completely missed out.
4)   4) In my 2nd RTI application I had sought copies of all reports submitted by the CRPF to the State Government of Chhattisgarh about the Silger-Chintalnar incident. I had argued that Section 24(1) applied only to the notified security and intelligence organisations and to any information they may hand over to the Central Government. It would not apply to any information they may hand over to the State Governments. Even here the CIC has refused access to the information that the CRPF may have given to the Chhattisgarh Government on the basis that disclosure may hamper investigations.
      5) In decision after decision over the last nine years, the CIC has ruled that PIOs and FAAs must not mechanically invoke the exemptions under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act to deny access to information. However despite reading this decision twice over, I fail to understand the detailed reasoning as to how the exemptions apply to the information I had sought. No case has been made out to show how the national and security interests protected under Section 8(1)(a) will be harmed by disclosure. I cannot find a convincing argument in the decision about any impediment caused to the investigation/inquiry by disclosing the information I sought. Under Section 19(5) the burden of proving why information must not be disclosed is on the public authority. The CRPF had not argued in any forceful manner why the exemptions are attracted to the information I sought nor has the CIC probed this issue deep enough to arrive at a conclusion. With the deepest respect to the wisdom of the CIC it must be said that it has simply chosen to go with the claims of the CRPF without subjecting them to rational assessment of the harm that is likely to be caused by disclosing the information sought. I had not asked for CRPF’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in general. I had only sought information about the SOPs in relation to use of firearms in Chhattisgarh which led to the killing of the 18 individuals. Even this has been denied.
      What information has the CIC ordered to be disclosed? 
The CIC has ordered the disclosure of the following information:
1) In my 1st RTI application I had sought copies of all laws, rules and regulations under which the CRPF operates in Chhattisgarh. The CRPF maintained at the hearing that they are an armed force of the Union and the generality of all laws applicable to them allows them to open fire in the State and that there are no specific rules about such matters. Scary indeed! However the CIC has ordered this information in whatever form to be disclosed.
2) In my 2nd RTI application I has sought copies of documents containing procedures to be adopted while inquiring into such incidents of extra-judicial killings within the CRPF. The CIC has ordered disclosure of this information also.
The CIC ordered disclosure of these two points of information within two weeks of the date of the order. More than a month has passed since this date. I have not received any information from the CRPF. Meanwhile the magisterial inquiry and the NHRC investigation continue to progress without an end in sight in the near future. If I file a non-compliance complaint the matter may come up after several months due to the huge backlog in the CIC.
What did the NHRC tell me about its ongoing inquiry?
During the pendency of these two cases before the CIC, I filed an RTI application with the NHRC asking the following information:
“I have attached a Press Release issued by the Central Reserve Police Force on 29 June, 2012 regarding two incidents of ‘deaths due to police action’ in the Silger-Chintalnar area of Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh. Members of the Chhattisgarh Police Force are said to have participated in this joint operation against alleged Maoists. Please provide me the following information that the Superintendent of Police is required to submit to the NHRC in all such cases of deaths due to police action as per NHRC Guidelines issued through D.O. No. 4/7/2008-PRP&P on 12th May, 2010:

 

1)      A clear photocopy of the report along with annexures, if any, submitted by the Superintendent of Police of Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh, within 48 hours of the two incidents of deaths due to police action, mentioned in the attached press release;

 

2)      A clear photocopy of the post mortem report, the inquest report and the report of any magisterial inquiry submitted by the Superintendent of Police of Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh, within three months of the two incidents of deaths due to police action, mentioned in the attached press release;

 

3)      A clear photocopy of all orders / instructions / directions /  recommendations issued by the NHRC to the State Government / police authorities in Chhattisgarh after considering the reports mentioned at paras #1 and 2 above.

 

I am unable to provide the exact case number as the Search Facility on the NHRC website did not throw up any result for the search words “Silger”, “Chintalnar” and “Bijapur”.

The NHRC sent me copies of their orders issued to the police in Chhattisgarh and several reminders sent for submission of the mandatory reports and documents in such cases of extra-judicial killing (5th attachment). As of August 2013 the NHRC had not received complete and legible information from the State authorities despite sending several reminders. I had sent copies of these documents obtained under the RTI Act to the CIC during the pendency of my case. They do not find mention in the decision of the CIC.
Will the contenders to the Prime Minister’s post after the elections to Parliament take this issue seriously? 
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