Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Modi government "turns" pro-activist, seeks data on attacks on whisleblowers, social workers, mediapersons

By Our Representative
In a surprise move, the Government of India has initiated the exercise of collecting data on attacks on whistleblowers, mediapersons, social workers and right to information (RTI) activists from across the country. This, it is learnt, is in response Parliamentarians’ frequent plea for the number of attacks on RTI activists.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), operating the Ministry of Home Affairs, has circulated a new template to all states, Union territories and cities for capturing statistics relating to the occurrence of such. The data is to be collected under the crime-head “Grievous Hurt of Varying Degrees”, which are recognised in Sections 325, 326, 326A and 326B of the Indian Penal Code.
While welcoming the decision to collect data, Venkatesh Nayak, a well-known RTI activist with the Commonweath Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Delhi, has said that till now the only source where information about attacks on RTI activists was the dedicated Wikipedia page (click HERE) and CHRI.
However, Nayak believes, the fresh official efforts to collect data about the attacks has some “technical problems.” Thus, when an RTI activist/ social activist, mediaperson or whistleblower is murdered, the case is counted under the crime head murder (Section 302) at para #1 of the template.
“So to be counted separately these activists, whistleblowers and mediapersons will have to ensure that they survive the attack. If not, the deceased will be counted in the larger category of 'murders' which gives no breakups regarding the identity of victims”, Nayak says.
Nayak wonders if a first time user of RTI who is attacked (and survives) for his/her intervention under para #20 would be treated as an RTI/social activist is a moot question.
“The recent instance of the alleged murder of an RTI user who filed his first RTI application to inquire about police action against a suspected bootlegger in Gujarat (click HERE) may not even qualify for inclusion in this category”, he says.
“The cop at the police station who is in charge of supplying such data on a monthly basis to the NCRB will wield a lot of discretion in counting such numbers unless the template is refined further to reflect all attacks -- murderous and grievous ones -- separately for RTI users/activists, social activists, mediapersons and whistleblowers”, Nayak adds.
Then, says Nayak, “An internal whistleblower, an employee of a government office, may not be able to get a complaint registered by the police without adequate support from sympathisers or influential people.” In fact, he adds, there isn’t “enough data” on how many internal whistleblowers have been attacked and reported to the police till date.
Referring to the Vyapam scandal in Madhya Pradesh in this context, Nayak says, it has “opened only a peephole into this macabre tradition (and not merely phenomenon) of silencing those who speak the truth.”
Further, Nayak says, at a time when the Government of India (GoI) is seeking to come up with some “retrograde” amendments to the Whistleblowers Protection Act (WBP), 2014 instead of implementing it, it is difficult to say “who will the police official responsible for sending the data to NCRB, recognise as a whistleblower.”

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