The Agra Central Jail authorities have refused to provide any details sought under an RTI about detainees shifted from J&K and detained in the jail after the BJP government abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories in the floor of the parliament on August 5.
“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,” an RTI applicant associated with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an international non-governmental organization working in the area of human rights, declared on its official website.
The RTI was filed by Venkatesh Nayak of CHRI after he read several reports about the detention of many J&K residents shifted to prisons in Uttar Pradesh (UP). One such news report on August 26, according to Nayak, mentioned more than a hundred persons from J&K being detained in four jails of UP.
Nayak had filed the RTI in Agra Central Prison, which is one of the prisons in UP where most of the J&K residents are currently detained.
Quoting a 2008 circular issued by the Administrative Reforms Department (AR Dept.) of Uttar Pradesh, the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Agra Central Prison stated that the “third party” information sought under RTI cannot be provided.
“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),” Nayak wrote on the CHRI site, adding that the “Third party” procedure in RTI Act is followed only when it comes to seeking confidential information.
“Since the inmates are now lodged outside of J&K, jail authorities are required to release information according to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, 1973 — which mandates that basic information and grounds for arrest should be made public,” Nayak pointed out.
The RTI application filed by Nayak had sought complete list of detainees along with their names, age, gender and residential address. The application had also sought “a clear photocopy of the report of the medical examination of every detenu, conducted at the time of his or her admission to Agra Central Prison as per paragraphs 20-21 of the Uttar Pradesh Jail Manual.”
Among other specific details pertaining to the detention of J&K residents, the RTI application also sought a photocopy of any document with “details of action taken by the administration of Agra Central Prison to enable the detenues to make representations to the Advisory Board against their detention orders under Section 15 of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978.”
The RTI application was sent by speed post to the concerned jail which received it on 29th August. “The Public Information Officer (PIO) showed no urgency while dealing with the matter,” according to Nayak. “Instead he sought information from the Convicts' Entry and Release Office of the Agra Central Prison five days later that is, on 03 September 2019. That office replied three days later.”
On October 12, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah in his address to the 14th Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission had said that under the leadership of Prime Minister 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,” Shah said at the convention.