The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) does not think that the Naxal ambush on April 24 that killed at least 25 of its personnel in Chhattisgarh was an act of human rights violation.
“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… Hence this department is not liable to provide any information in this regard to you under the RTI Act, 2005,” the CPRF says in a Right to Information (RTI) reply to social activist Venkatesh Nayak.
“Why does the government and in this case, the CRPF, fight shy of treating these attacks as ‘human rights violations’ of their personnel by non-State actors? Surely, there must be a reason for it,” says Nayak, who coordinates Access to Information Programme for the NGO, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Nayak was seeking to make public a CRPF internal report on the Sukma massacre. Left-wing extremists had attacked a team of 90 CRPF personnel who were on duty, sanitising a stretch of the public road being constructed in the Burkapal-Chintagufa area of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh. Apart from at least 25 CRPF personnel being killed, scores of others were injured.
Media reports pointed to an internal inquiry conducted by the CRPF soon after to determine what went wrong that cost so many human lives. The inquiry report—which was apparently submitted to the Union Home Ministry—is said to have identified intelligence failure, poor leadership on the ground, low morale and a lack of adequate training that led to the Sukma massacre.
“With our CRPF personnel repeatedly becoming victims, my RTI plea was for making the report public,” says Nayak, adding, “But that was denied.”
The CRPF took refuge under Section 24 of the RTI Act that exempts 26 intelligence and security organisations from ordinary obligations of transparency like other public authorities. However, the immunity does not hold under two circumstances—information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations. Of course, information about allegations of human rights violations can be given only with the approval of the Central Information Commission.
Nayak says the CRPF said the inquiry report cannot be shared into the incident as it contains various “security and tactics related issues” and it could adversely affect CRPF's strategic response.
“The point is even when information is sought related to allegations of corruption or human rights violation, exempt agencies like the CRPF simply don’t provide any information at all,” says Nayak. “They often simply deny the existence of such allegations,” he adds.
Of course, CRPF personnel or members of other police forces do have restrictions on their fundamental rights as per Police Forces (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1966. “However, they continue to have the fundamental right to life while in service. By denying this reality, the CRPF may be doing injustice to its own personnel,” says Nayak.