here in The Northlines, Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, recounts difficulties faced in getting answers to some basic questions about the administration of India's Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990. In a word, lots of paper shuffling, concluding in doubtful answers from two government offices. Excerpt:
What is wrong with these replies?
If neither the Defence Department nor the Indian Army has the details of cases sent by the J&K Government requesting sanction for prosecution of defence personnel, then what was the basis of the Minister’s reply tabled in Parliament on new year’s day this year? Surely, no other Ministry can be involved as this subject matter is not allocated to them under the Allocation of Business Rules, 1961.
Further, only one of the two public authorities -- the Defence Department or the Indian Army -- can be telling the truth. Both their RTI [Right to Information Act 2005] replies cannot be true and correct as they contradict each other. Even if the files of all decided cases might have been sent back to J&K, surely an office copy of the replies sent (RTI query#4) would have been maintained by the concerned office.
Further, if the norms, criteria and standards for assessing evidence and the rank and designation of the officer who is competent to make a decision whether to permit prosecution or not, are not written down in any official record, then who in Government rejected the requests for sanction to prosecute defence personnel and by following what procedure?
All of this information should have been proactively disclosed under the RTI Act. Sub-clauses (ii), (iii) and (iv) of Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act require the Defence Department to voluntarily disclose the procedure for decision making and the related supervisory and accountability mechanisms along with the attendant norms and criteria involved in the making of such decisions. Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act requires the Defence Department to place all relevant facts in the public domain while announcing decisions that affect the public. The people in J&K and elsewhere in India have the right to know these facts. Under Section 4(1)(d) of the RTI Act, the affected families have the right to know the reasons behind the denial of sanction for prosecution in all 47 cases. Despite pointing to this duty of proactive disclosure in the RTI application, the public authorities have denied the very existence of the case files and information regarding the procedures to be followed and the norms to be applied while denying sanction for prosecution.
Of course, I will move the Central Information Commission against the two public authorities for denying the very existence of the information requested in the RTI application. However, the contradictory RTI replies relating to a matter raised in Parliament is perplexing, to say the least.