The RTI response suggests ministers are happy to use the death of security personnel for propaganda purposes but that their human rights are of little real concern.
New Delhi: Refusing to part with information from its internal probe into the April 24 attack in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma by Maoists, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has stated that “no violations of human rights” took place in the incident, which left 25 of its personnel dead.
The CRPF’s position directly contradicts the stand taken by information and broadcasting minister Venkaiah Naidu, who had called the attack a violation of the human rights of the jawans.
A day after the attack, Naidu had asked: “Are human rights only meant for those who choose violence in furtherance of their outdated ideologies and not for security personnel and common people?”
Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative had filed an RTI application seeking a copy of the report of the internal inquiry conducted by the organisation into the attack and whose preliminary findings had appeared in a section of the media.
Nayak said the CRPF personnel were on duty when the attack took place. They were “sanitising a stretch of the public road being constructed in the Burkapal-Chintagufa area of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh” when an unspecified number of militants attacked them. Some of the militants were also reportedly killed in the firefight.
Nayak said that while section 24 of the RTI Act exempts 26 intelligence and security organisations from ordinary obligations of transparency, they remain duty bound to give information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations. As such, he had in his plea sought the information about the inquiry report stating that it “pertains to allegations of violation of the right to life of the CRPF personnel who were killed in the attack”.
The RTI activist had noted that he believes that this was a “fit case for disclosure of information under the second proviso of section 24 of the RTI Act.”
However, CRPF’s central public information officer (CPIO) responded saying that “in the instant matter, there appears to be no violations of human rights as well as facts of the case do not attract the allegations of corruption.” Moreover, stating that the application had not made any such reference, he said the department was not liable to provide any information to him under the RTI Act.
The CPIO also stated that the inquiry report into the incident contains various security and tactics related issues which cannot be shared under the RTI Act because it might adversely affect the organisation’s “strategic response”.
According to Nayak, what is problematic about the CRPF response is that while the constitution of India allows some of the fundamental rights of citizens to be curtailed so long as they are in service, the Police Forces (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1966 restricts only three categories of fundamental rights of every member of a notified police force. These are the right to become “a member of any trade union, labour union or political association or any other society, association, institution or organisation,” to communicate with the press or publish a book, letter or document unless it is about the discharge of official duties”, and to participate in any meeting or take part in “any demonstration organised by any body for political purposes”.
However, nowhere is the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution restricted for CRPF personnel or members of other police forces.”
Therefore, Nayak said the CRPF personnel continue to have the fundamental right to life while in service. “Clearly, the murderous attack in April by LWE groups amounts to violation of their human rights by non-state actors. By denying this reality, the CRPF may be doing injustice to its own personnel,” he added.
The CRPF’s refusal to acknowledge the violation of the human rights of their own personnel highlights the largely propagandistic use the government has made of both the concept of human rights and the sacrifices of security personnel.
While using the Sukma killings of April 2017 to slam human rights activists and organisations for their supposed silence on the killings of CRPF personnel Naidu had also asked: “Why are the human right activists silent when such inhuman acts are mindlessly committed by outlawed elements?”.
There had, in fact, been multiple statements of condemnation which he chose to ignore.
Similarly, while speaking on a television programme recently, Union minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju had also commented: “Just like common people, our forces also have human rights”.
If Rijiju and Naidu believe in what they say, they clearly need to find a more effective way of getting their message across to the CRPF.