Azad said the commission is of the opinion that without examining the contents of the report in question, the applicability of Section 8(1)(a) (exempting information related to national security) cannot be evaluated.
The Central Information Commission has sought from the CRPF detailed records related to a report submitted to the force by its Inspector General Rajnish Rai about a “fake encounter” in Assam in 2017. The commission’s directive came on a plea of a journalist who had sought the disclosure of the report on the grounds that alleged extra judicial killings were violation of human rights and did not come under the exemption given to the CRPF from making disclosures under the RTI Act. In response to his RTI query seeking a copy of the report on the fake encounter by a joint squad of security forces in Assam in which two persons were killed in cold blood, the CRPF cited Section 24 of the RTI Act to deny its disclosure. The section exempts the CRPF and other listed organisations from ambit of the RTI Act, but it does not apply when the information sought pertains to allegations of human rights violation and corruption.
In such a scenario, the disclosure depends on whether any of the exemption provisions of the RTI Act is applicable or not. During the hearing on the issue, the CRPF, which had earlier not applied any of the exemption clauses under Section 8 of the RTI Act while rejecting the petition, started citing every possible exemption clause under the statute. “Having heard the parties…the commission is of the view that the appellant has made a prima facie case warranting disclosure of information sought, by bringing it within the ambit of first proviso of Section 24 of the RTI Act,” Information Commissioner Yashovadhan Azad has said. He said the language of Section 24 is “unambiguously clear” as the expression ‘allegations of corruption and human rights violations’ do not cast a burden upon the information seeker to establish the instance of actual corruption or human rights violation beyond reasonable doubt. “‘Allegation’ has to be interpreted purposively in line with the Act,” he said.
Azad said the commission is of the opinion that without examining the contents of the report in question, the applicability of Section 8(1)(a) (exempting information related to national security) cannot be evaluated. “Considering the apparently conflicting interests of human rights violation and national security; as portrayed by parties hitherto, the commission is inclined to summon and call for the complete records of the case before deciding the present appeal,” he said. He clarified that the exercise should be confined to deciding the question of disclosability of the information sought under the RTI Act. According to media reports, Rajnish Rai, a 1992-batch IPS officer of Gujarat cadre, had filed a report last year with the CRPF top brass chronicling how a joint team of the Army, the Assam Police, the CRPF, its jungle warfare unit CoBRA and the border guarding force Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) conducted the encounter on March 29 -30, 2017 in Simlaguri area of Chirang district and killed what they called were two insurgents of the banned group NDFB (S).
Rai, in his 13-page report, alleged that information about the incident and FIR filed by the joint squad of forces present a “fictitious account” of the operation to “conceal pre-planned murders of two persons in custody and present it as some brave act of professional achievement”. The Home Ministry had acknowledged receiving the report and said it was being studied and action on its content would be taken soon. Advisor to the Home Ministry, Ashok Prasad, had said that the CRPF DG had received the report and would send it to the ministry. Rai, deputy chief of the CRPF formations in the northeastern states, had also sent the April 17 report to the Chief Secretary of Assam and chairperson of the Unified Command of Security Forces, the Central Reserve Police Force headquarters here, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 4 Corps in Assam and the Director General of the SSB.