In what can be a major source of embarrassment for the union government, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has stated in an RTI reply that “there appears to be no violations of Human Rights” in the death of 25 of its personnel following a Maoist ambush this April. The statement was made by the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the force in an RTI reply this June. Interestingly, Venkaiah Naidu, the minister for I&B, had alleged in an official statement after the attack that human rights activists “don’t uphold similar rights of security personnel”.
The RTI reply pertains to an attack on CRPF personnel that took place on April 24 in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district. According to reports, Naxals had laid an ambush on a patrolling party of the 74 battalion of the force monitoring road construction work in the area. Twenty five personnel were killed while six were injured in the ambush.
The reply came in response to a request that asked for a copy of CRPF’s inquiry report on the attack and was filed by Venkatesh Nayak, coordinator of the Access to Information Programme at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, under section 24 of the RTI Act. Intelligence and security organisations established by the central government are exempted under the section from disclosing information unless the information pertains to “allegations of corruption and human rights violations”.
“The reports of the unfortunate deaths of serving CRPF personnel in the said incidents prima facie may constitute allegations of violation of the human rights of those CRPF personnel. Therefore I believe this is a fit case for disclosure of information under the second proviso of Section 24 of the RTI Act,” Nayak’s plea asking for a copy of the inquiry report said. While findings of the report have been reported by media, it is not known whether all findings and recommendations were included in media reports.
In its reply, however, the CRPF’s CPIO has contended that “there appears to be no violations of Human Rights as well as facts of the case do not attract the allegations of corruption”. “Moreover, your application does not make any reference to such allegations. Hence this department is not liable to provide any information in this regard to you under the RTI Act-2005,” the reply reads.
The CRPF has also sought exemption from disclosing the report on the ground that it might affect their strategic response as it contains various “security & tactics related issues”. YKA is in possession of copies of both Nayak’s application and CRPF’s reply.
The force’s reply is in stark contrast with an official statement made by I&B minister Venkaiah Naidu a day after the ambush. “Are Human Rights only meant for those who chose violence in furtherance of their outdated ideologies and not for security personnel and common people?” the minister had asked in his statement a day after the attack, alleging that activists were silent on the attack on CRPF jawans. He had asked a similar question again in a column published in an English daily on May 1.
In an email statement made after receiving the CRPF’s reply, Nayak said in an email statement on June 20 that although there are certain restrictions on the rights of CRPF and police personnel, no law restricts their right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution. “The murderous attack in April by LWE (left-wing extremist) groups amounts to violation of their human rights by non-State actors. By denying this reality, the CRPF may be doing injustice to its own personnel,” he added.
Citing another such response made by the CRPF during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, Nayak also criticised “self-appointed conscience-keepers of the “nation” and advocates of a belligerent brand of “nationalism” operating through TV news channels” for accusing human rights activists of silence over death of security personnel. Several activists had denounced the April 24 attack by Naxals in Sukma.
“Instead of barking up the wrong tree, these pontificators of nationalism must question the Government’s attitude towards such incidents,” Nayak said.