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Govt of India "refuses" to make public laws, regulations that protect RAW agents abroad, rejects RTI plea

By Our Representative
The Government of India has rejected a right to information (RTI) plea seeking information about “laws, rules and regulations” that explain the nature and the extent of legal protection provided to officers and employees of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), who are engaged in overseas intelligence operations.
In his RTI plea to the Cabinet secretariat in January 2016, senior Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) activist Venkatesh Nayak had also sought information regarding “procedures, norms, instructions or guidelines” that contain details of the action that must be taken by the Government of India to defend the officers and employees of RAW engaged in overseas intelligence operations.
He had also sought information the action that the Government of India is obliged to take upon receipt of information about the death of any officer or employee of RAW who was engaged in overseas intelligence operations, due to any adverse action taken against him/her by any agency in a foreign country.
Nayak says, by refusing the information, the Government of India is stating that, while it wants citizens to work for them to gather and analyse intelligence for maintaining the external security of the country, they will not tell people what mechanisms exist for ensuring their safety and security.
The RTI plea acquires importance against the backdrop of a recent report of arrest of a person of Indian origin by Pakistan's law enforcement agencies. While Pakistan summoned India's envoy to that country and issued a demarche about the alleged "interference” by India in its internal affairs in Balochistan through R&AW, the official spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs vehemently denied it.
However, the Ministry confirmed the apprehended individual is a retired Indian Navy officer and has sought consular access to him.
Pointing out that “there is no information in the public domain about what must be done, if, heavens forbid, an Indian intelligence operative were to be murdered abroad”, Nayak believes, “This is a concern that is very much valid even though it must not be taken as a comment on the latest incident of the apprehension of an Indian national in Pakistan.”
Two weeks after the RTI plea was filed, Cabinet Secretariat rejected the RTI application stating that all the information sought pertained to the organization is “exempt” from the purview of the RTI Act under Section 24. “Interestingly, the CPIO does not even mention the name, R&AW in his reply. So high is the level of secrecy”, comments Nayak.
Saying that the reply “is in tune with past attempts which frustrate all efforts to secure basic transparency in the working of exempt organizations”, Nayak says, in 2014 the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) replied to an RTI plea that the actions of left wing militants in blowing up a CRPF convoy resulting in the deaths of CRPF personnel in Bihar and Chhattisgarh during election duty “did not amount to human rights violation of the deceased”.
“I hope the same attitude is not adopted by the intelligence agencies in relation to their operatives who are posted abroad”, Nayak says, adding, “The citizens of India have the right to know what measures the Government is required to undertake by law to ensure the safe return of its external intelligence operatives even though they may not have been involved in the latest case as clarified by the Government.”
“R&AW is also not transparent about the manner in which it deals with RTI applications year after year”, Nayak says, adding, “The Central Information Commission's Annual Report for 2014-15 lists only one instance of rejection of an RTI application under Section 24 for the entire year.”
Noting that “it is highly unlikely that R&AW received only one RTI application during this period”, Nayak says, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) “received more than a thousand RTI applications in 2014-15. Of these 95.5% requests were rejected by invoking Section 24 of the RTI Act.” The IB is India's premier internal intelligence agency.

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