New Delhi: The Union home ministry and the Rashtrapati Bhavan have refused to disclose information on the inputs they received from the Manipur government since the outbreak of ethnic violence in the state over four months ago.
Manipur has been in the grip of ethnic violence since May 3. More than 160 people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced. The state has been sharply divided along regional lines.
Information on state government’s inputs to the Union was sought by Right to Information (RTI) activist Venkatesh Nayak under the urgent clause of section 7(1) of the RTI Act, 2005 which states that when information is sought for concerns of life and liberty of a person, the same shall be furnished within 48 hours of the receipt of the application.
The information was also sought in connection with Rule 10 under with the Transaction of Business Rules, 1961, which states that fortnightly reports must be submitted to the President about the internal political situation of states and Union territories, along with weekly intelligence summaries from the director of the Intelligence Bureau.
Speaking to The Wire, Nayak said that since he had brought the Transaction of Business Rules, 1961 in the public domain through a previous RTI intervention in 2011, he was “aware of the reporting requirement that the govt has to the highest constitutional office in India.”
“I had obtained governor’s reports in 2016 about the political situation in J&K which was furnished by the NDA government itself so I was hopeful that the government might be transparent about its own internal deliberations in Manipur,” he added.
Nayak said that it was important to file RTI interventions using this information to demand transparency and accountability.
“Since the mayhem in Manipur is of a grave magnitude and the fact that it has not been contained certainly makes it a duty of every citizen to demand transparency as a step towards seeking accountability at the central and state level. Therefore, as I had not found any reports of efforts made by citizens to enquire as to what transpired at the highest level of the union government, I decided to file these two RTI interventions.”
MHA refuses information citing Section 8(1)(a) and Section 24
In its reply to Nayak’s RTI filed on July 20, the MHA refused to provide information by citing Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act on the total number of reports received from the Manipur Governor Anusuiya Uikey, the exact dates of these reports and a legible copy of these reports.
Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act states that there will be no obligation to give any citizen information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.
It also cited the same section to not disclose information on the total number of written communications issued by every authority under the MHA to the Manipur government with regard to improving law and order in the state since April 1 and the exact dates on which these written communications were issued and a legible copy of these written communications.
The same section was invoked to deny information on the exact dates on which fortnightly reports about the internal political situation from states and Union territories were submitted to the President and a legible extract from each of these fortnightly reports.
Information relating to the total number of reports received from central and state intelligence with regard to the law and order situation in Manipur since April 1, the exact dates on which these reports were received from these intelligence agencies and a legible copy of each of these reports were also denied under Section 24.
This section states that while RTI applications will not provide information relating to the intelligence and security organisations, exceptions are made in the cases of information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations.
The same section was used to deny information related to the exact dates on which weekly intelligence summaries received from the director of the IB were submitted to the President, a legible extract from these weekly intelligence summaries and the exact dates on which fortnightly reports about the internal political situation from states and Union territories were submitted to the President.
While the RTI response was meant to be given within 48 hours, Nayak was informed by the Central Public Information Officer that the application reached him on August 7, 17 days after it was delivered.
Rashtrapati Bhavan: No information available
Nayak filed a separate RTI with the Rashtrapati Bhavan four days after the one he filed with the MHA.
However, the response from the Rashtrapati Bhavan dated August 7 also did not provide any information. In this case too, instead of a reply within 48 hours, he received one after two weeks.
The Rashtrapati Bhavan refused information citing Section 8 (1) (a) on the total number of reports received from the Manipur governor since April 1.
On being asked about the exact date of these reports and a legible copy of each of these reports, its reply stated: “Question does not arise.”
While the home ministry in its reply had refused information on some queries citing Section 24, the Rashtrapati Bhavan instead said that there was no information available.
The response from Rashtrapati Bhavan said “no information is available” in connection to the following queries:
The exact dates on which weekly intelligence summaries were received from the director of the IB, the exact dates on which Manipur governor’s reports were submitted to the President, a legible extract from the weekly intelligence report on the state of affairs in Manipur, the exact dates on which fortnightly reports on the internal political situation from states were received, the exact dates when these fortnightly reports were submitted to the President, and an extract of these fortnightly reports are among details that Nayak had sought.
The reply also said that there was no information available on queries relating to the exact dates of every meeting held since May 1 between President Murmu and PM Modi on Manipur, a legible copy of the text of the advice (if any) given by Murmu to Modi on improving the situation in Manipur, the exact dates of meetings when home minister Amit Shah briefed Murmu on Manipur since May 1 and a copy of the text of any advice given by the president on improving the situation in Manipur.
On August 29, Nayak received a revised reply from Rashtrapati Bhavan explaining that the prime minister and the home minister had met the president twice each between May and July.
Nayak said to The Wire that the difference in responses by the MHA and the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the subsequent revised reply from the latter were quite “perplexing.”
“I found it quite perplexing that somebody in a position higher than the CPIO (who had given the initial RTI response) had undertaken a review of the reply and therefore directed the CPIO to be more specific about the meetings or it could also be a possibility that the RTI machinery in the Rashtrapati Bhavan and MHA might have compared notes, because it is not uncommon. It is quite possible that the higher authorities might have compared notes and gave a revised reply,” he said.