Media

As Police Grills Reporter, RTI Experts Say Access to Ministry File May Hold Key to Yoga Story Truth

New Delhi: Even as the Delhi Police on Wednesday questioned RTI activist-journalist Pushp Sharma for a second day in connection with the authenticity of AYUSH ministry documents on which he based his story on Muslims allegedly being discriminated against by the Centre in the selection of yoga trainers and teachers, RTI activists say the investigation is the first of its kind they have seen since the Right to Information Act was passed..

They have also suggested that the journalist – accused by the AYUSH minister of fabricating an RTI reply – can, if he so desires, seek access to and take copies from the original file in the ministry from which the purported reply came.

Well known RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal said that in case the government challenges the authenticity of a document, an RTI activist can say, “I received these documents, please let me inspect the records.” But, he added, “it is not always easy to inspect the files, it is also possible that they may take the relevant page out of there.”

As for the use of forensics to establish if the paper in question was printed by the government, he said that would require investigation and prove to be a long-drawn process. “If someone is a real sufferer, he can ask for an inspection of the file. In 99.9 per cent cases the pages are numbered. The government will have to give access to the files and in case it refuses, the defendant can also ask for this access through the courts.”

Recalling that in the long period that he has been an RTI activist, he has not heard of the police questioning any RTI applicant like this, Agarwal said: “I have done so many exposures but never before has this kind of action been initiated. The government can deny the information, but never has the government even said why did you share the details with the media. Sometimes, in the Central Information Commission they even say we can show you the documents personally, but I refuse them, because what is their use then? Also if some other government official gives it out, then it amounts to breach of trust.”

“But it is not always easy to inspect the files; it is also possible that they may take the relevant page out of there.” – Subhash Agarwal, RTI activist

Asked whether a junior official in a ministry could release information on his own without his or her seniors being in the know – Sharma believes this is the likely explanation for the controversial ‘Annexure 1’ (which contained the vital information on which he based his story) being sent to him – Agarwal said it is common for junior officials to provide the RTI replies. ‘It is not essential for senior officers to vet the information. Ideally they should not do it, because they are also the appellate authority and it is basic rule of the justice delivery system that the appellate authority should not be part of the decision making process. Still, normally they often go through the files, but not always.”

On how RTI applicants can protect themselves in case information is provided by some junior officials, the award-winning RTI activist said: “A risk is always involved, if the pages are not certified. If I were to play Devil’s advocate, what if I put a fake reply on behalf of the government, then what protection does the government have? What if someone tries to deliberately defame the government, what if he has four documents and deliberately files a fifth one. Of course, I am not mentioning this case in particular.”

As for the case of Pushp Sharma, Agarwal said the fact is the document the government is questioning – Annexure I – is not certified. “But then,” he said, “very few documents received from the government are certified, not even 10%. In this particular case, if he challenges [the government and insists] that he has received this in an RTI reply, but if the paper concerned goes missing from the file, then what will happen?”

“They can look at the typing of the page, its quality and whether the government has used similar typesetting earlier. But this would require proper investigation.” – P.P. Kapoor, RTI activist

Another RTI activist, P.P. Kapoor, who has exposed several land scams in Haryana over the past eight years, said normally not all papers received by activists are attested. “Sometimes they send attested ones, sometimes they don’t. We ask for certified copies under the RTI Act but don’t always receive them.”

So, he said, in case one of four pages received by an RTI applicant is a plain paper and the government claims it is fake, then the applicant should immediately demand an investigation. “They can look at the typing of the page, its quality and whether the government has used similar typesetting earlier. But this would require proper investigation.”

“I have never heard of such a case in which an RTI activist has been interrogated like this,” he said, adding that every activist has the right to inspect the files, take a copy of the files and also their samples. “There is a provision for it, they charge a per-hour fee for viewing the files and you can ask for a copy.”

“If I were to play Devil’s advocate, what if I put a fake reply on behalf of the government, then what protection does the government have? What if someone tries to deliberately defame the government, what if he has four documents and deliberately files a fifth one.” – Subhash Agarwal, RTI activist

Meanwhile, Zafarul Islam Khan, editor of Milli Gazette – which ran Pushp Sharma’s story, told The Wire that while he had read in some newspapers about his newspaper being charged under Section 153-A of the IPC for promoting hatred among communities and Section 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), he has neither received notice of this or a call from the police.

He said the interrogation of Sharma, who was quizzed by the police for nearly four hours on Tuesday evening, began at 11 am on Wednesday. “Before going to the Kotla Mubarakpur police station he has taken all the original RTI applications and replies which were lying with us.”

  • Shishkta

    See his work and he has raised a simple issue which is prima facie unconstitutional , if such policy exists. I don’t mind accepting version of ministry and minister but to say a journalist wrong you need to give proof. Lots of journalists took ministry right when they said they had hired minority people in past. But its over 2 weeks now , still ministry not mentioning a single name from minority? What’s wrong in releasing new list if ministry thinks they have list of originals. In fact new documents have been issued by him where a padamshri awardee is seen doing criminal act by recruiting his own daughter and even Delhi police is given complaint regarding this.

    Don’t think government can intimidate writers. activists, students , journalists.

    Why not a case on Arnab and sudhir on running doctored videos of JNU students?

  • Shishkta

    Do you think any government will admit what he has shown? In Bengal Mamta men caught on camera taking money ….will they admit?

    Bangaru lakshman caught on camera taking money , did he ever accept his fault?

    No politician admits his fault even when he/s is caught red handed. Let government come clean with evidence but so far they didn’t come clean in this matter. We have heard slap a case kill the career and that’s what they are trying to do with pushp and he boldly stood beside his facts, irrespective to power used against him. It’s called honesty and guts. He did a story and challenged the government and has put entire ministry on back-foot. Don’t dare to call such man opportunist and if you say then why dont you prove which can prosecute him in courts.

  • Shishkta

    It takes great courage to fight against system and why he is doing this? He is getting paid for this? He belongs to minority community? He raised social issue that’s it.