Mumbai/New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) In a significant order, the Central Information Commission (CIC), has directed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to provide the complete list with full details of arrested Indian and Pakistani civilians and fishermen to a Mumbai RTI activist within four weeks.
The CIC’s directions came on an appeal filed by activist Jatin Desai, an India-Pakistan peace crusader, seeking details of the full lists as submitted by the governments of the two neighbours to each other.
“Under the Agreement on Consular Access, 2008, both — India and Pakistan — exchange lists of prisoners in each other’s countries in their custody on January 1 and July 1 every year. They include both civilians and fishermen,” Desai told IANS.
Till July 2017, Desai said he was provided the exact copies of the lists exchanges by both sides vide RTI applications.
“However, when I sought copies of the lists exchanged between the two countries on January 1, 2018, I was shocked to see the Chief Public Information Officer (CPIO) of MEA giving only a small portion of data from the lists – pertaining to the names and parents’ names of the arrested civilians and fisherfolk,” Desai said.
All other details like the date and place of arrests, the charges they were slapped with, the date when they were provided consular access by both countries were ‘missing’ from the lists Desai got.
After his appeals with the MEA, finally the CIC Sudhir Bhargava gave Desai and the MEA’s CPIO a detailed hearing, on February 28, 2019.
The MEA contended that providing any other details — barring the names and parentage of the prisoners — would affect national security, and hence it was exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act, Section 8(1)(a).
However, the MEA failed to explain to the CIC how disclosure of this information would affect national security.
In his order, CIC Bhargava ruled: “An information shall be ordinarily provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question.”
Accordingly, he ordered the CPIO, MEA to provide the full information sought by the RTI activist within four weeks, and disposed off the appeal.
“This is an important order as the complete lists would give an idea of the arrests details, the charges they face, whether consular access was given or not within the mandatory period of three months after they were nabbed,” Desai said.
Currently, as of January 1, 2019, there are 537 Indian prisoners of which 483 are fishermen.
Similarly, there are 348 Pakistani prisoners in different Indian jails. Of them, 99 are fishermen.
Both sides use words like “Indian or believed to be Indian” or “Pakistani or believed to be Pakistani” till their citizenship details are verified, said Desai.
The full data of the prisoners also help the families of the arrested persons on both sides of the border to keep track of the progress of the cases going on against them in the courts, the kind of punishment and some indicator of when they are likely to return home, besides follow-up in case of their illness or death while in custody.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])