Agra jail refuses details of J-K detainees under RTI

The Agra Central Prison has refused to provide details of detainees shifted from Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of the state's special status to an RTI applicant, citing exemption clauses which allow withholding of information that could endanger a person's safety and third party information.

In response to RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the Agra prison authorities refused to give any details about the prisoners brought from Jammu and Kashmir.

They cited Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act and a third party clause.

In case a public authority cites third party clause, the public information officer (PIO) is mandated to seek clearance from that party before allowing disclosure.

However, even if the party refuses the disclosure, the CPIO can go ahead and provide the information if it is in larger public interest.

The response to Nayak do not disclose the process of third party consultation undertaken by the Agra prison authorities.

A large number of political activists and others were transferred from Srinagar to Agra prison after the withdrawal of special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution by the central government on August 5.

Nayak had filed the RTI application with the Agra Central Prison on August 26 seeking information relating to the persons from Jammu and Kashmir who have been detained in Agra Central Prison as on the date of his RTI application.

In the RTI, he sought the personal details, names, age, gender and residential address of the detainees; the prison inmate class such as 'superior' or 'general' or 'casual' or 'habitual' or 'under-trial'; information on solitary confinement among other information.

Nayak said "as this information concerns the life and liberty of the individuals being held in Agra Central Prison, I sought the information within 48 hours as per the proviso under Section 7(1) of the RTI Act".

The PIO stated that the RTI applicant has asked "third party" information which cannot be provided as per a 2008 circular issued by the Administrative Reforms Department of Uttar Pradesh.

According to Nayak, this circular cannot be found on the department's website or in the compilation of RTI-related government of UP circulars uploaded on the website of the Uttar Pradesh Information Commission (UPIC).

The government imposed strict restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir after the constitutional provisions that accorded the state special status were abrogated and it was split into two union territories on August 5.

Nayak has alleged that the PIO's reply is gravely erroneous for many reasons. He said that nothing under Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act exempts the supply of "third party" information merely on that ground.

He also termed as "absurd" the argument that the lives of detenues, who are housed in a Central Prison with high-level security measures already in place, would be endangered by disclosing their names and addresses.

"It also speaks volumes about the lack of faith the prison officials have about the very security measures they have put in place to guard the inmates," Nayak added.

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