Calling it "third party information, the Agra Central Prison refuses information, blocks transparency
Last week, I, the author, sent a despatch about the Union Home Ministry's admission
under The Right to Information Act, 2005
(RTI Act) that they do not have any information about orders issued to shutdown telecommunication channels, TV and radio reception and advisories for the return of tourists and pilgrims undertaking Amarnath Yatra from Jammu and Kashmir. They also admitted to lack of information about arrests/detentions of politicians, social activists and RTI activists.
Now, under the RTI Act, the prison authorities in Uttar Pradesh have refused to provide any details of individuals shifted from J&K to Agra Central Prison around the time when fundamental changes were made to the status of J&K under India's Constitution. The Public Information Officer (PIO) has stated that I have asked "third party" information which cannot be provided as per a 2008 circular issued by the Administrative Reforms Department (AR Dept.) of Uttar Pradesh. Ironically, this circular cannot be found on that Dept.'s website or in the compilation of RTI-related Govt. of UP circulars uploaded on the website of the Uttar Pradesh Information Commission (UPIC).
The RTI Intervention
Soon after Parliament approved a slew of amendments to the Constitution and the law to divide the State of J&K into two Union Territories (UTs), several segments of the media reported instances of many residents of J&K being moved to prisons in Uttar Pradesh
(UP) under detention orders. After reading one such report
of more than a hundred persons from J&K being detained in four jails of UP, on 26th August, 2018, I filed an RTI application with one such jail, namely, the Agra Central Prison
seeking the following information:
"Please provide the following information relating to the persons from Jammu and Kashmir who have been detained in Agra Central Prison as on the date of this RTI application:
a) the complete list of such detenues along with their names, age, gender and residential address;
b) a clear photocopy of the pages of the relevant register containing the personal details of every such detenue at the time of his or her admission to Agra Central Prison;
c) a clear photocopy of the report of the medical examination of every detenue conducted at the time of his or her admission to Agra Central Prison as per paragraphs 20-21 of the Uttar Pradesh Jail Manual;
d) the prison inmate class which has been accorded to every detenue such as “superior” or “general” class or “casual” or “habitual” or “under-trial” as per the UP Jail Manual;
e) a clear photocopy of the detention order and grounds for detention pertaining to every detenue as available on record;
f) a clear photocopy of the rules and regulations as per the UP Jail Manual governing the treatment of every such detenue;
g) a clear photocopy of the list of items supplied to the detenues... Click here to read more
As this information concerns the life and liberty of the individuals being held in Agra Central Prison, I sought the information within 48 hours as per the proviso under Section 7(1) of the RTI Act.
The PIO's reply
The RTI application sent by Speed Post was delivered within 3 days (on the 29th of August). The Public Information Officer (PIO) showed no urgency while dealing with the matter. Instead he sought information from the Convicts' Admission and Release Office of the Agra Central Prison five days later that is, on 03 September 2019. That office replied three days later stating as follows:
"Information sought at points a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h,, i, j, k, l, is related to third party which cannot be disclosed as per para #37 of the Guidance Manual issued for PIOs vide Government Order of No. Sam.Bha.Sam. 16/43-22008-15/2(7)/07 issued by the Administrative Reforms Department-02, dated 14.02.2008.
The information sought cannot be provided under Section 8(1)(g) of the Right to Information Act, 2005" (unofficial translation from the original)
In his reply dated 18th September, 2019 (13 days after receiving these inputs), the PIO of Agra Central Prison stated that the information sought cannot be provided as per Section 8(1)(g) the RTI Act
and attached a copy of the communication sent by the Convicts' Admission and Release Office of the Agra Central Prison. The PIO took 20 days to reply to an RTI application which he ought to have disposed within 2 days (48 hours)
. Click here
for the RTI application and replies.
What is wrong with the RTI reply?
Through the RTI application I had hoped to find out two categories of information:
1) the names and addresses of people from J&K who were being held in Agra Central Prison; and
2) whether the detenues were receiving treatment as per the provisions of the UP Jail Manual and were able to make representations against their detention to the concerned authorities.
The PIO's reply is gravely erroneous for the following reasons
: Click here
to read more.
The commitment to transparency and accountability declared by the Union Home Minister does not resonate in UP
"RTI has channelized and transformed civil society into a force that ensures accountability from the government....India is the first nation to have successfully created an accountability system till the last leg of governance. ... RTI removes arbitrariness from governance and acts as a major grievance redressal tool....Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, the government is committed to creating a system where there is enough suo moto declaration of information that the need to file RTI applications itself is reduced..... the success of a transparent government lies not in an increase in the number of RTI applications but in the fact that RTI applications reduce in spite of the RTI process being completely accessible to people." (emphasis supplied)
As neither his Ministry nor the concerned authorities in UP, where his party is in power, has proactively disclosed any information about the detenues from J&K, I had no alternative to seeking such information through a formal RTI application. It looks like these policy imperatives simply do not percolate down to the "last mile" where transparency and accountability is required the most.
I, the author, will be doing the usual appeals in this case and keep you posted.