Earlier, I had written (click HERE) about a new template that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has developed for capturing data about instances of attacks on RTI users, social activists, whistleblowers and media persons. Thanks to a diligent colleague who drew my attention to the existence of this template, I was able to bring this new development to your attention. I had pointed out some lacunae in the template which if refined, could become a major tool for collecting authentic data from the police stations about attacks on such socially sensitive citizens as a first step to towards reducing their occurrence.
Having read that details of the article, Baijayant (Jay) Panda, Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha from the State of Odisha, took upon himself the task of writing to the NCRB with suggestion that the template be revised. Kudos to him for his sensitive approach to this burning topic. He wrote a letter to the Director General (DG), NCRB. Apart from suggesting that more realistic data be captured about attacks on RTI users, social activists, whistleblowers and mediapersons, he recommended that the template be revised through a process of widespread public debate, that the data be updated every month and be uploaded on the NCRB’s website from time to time to present a true picture of the instances of attacks on well-meaning and socially sensitive citizens. The office of the MP sent me a copy of the letter soon after and agreed to its circulation amongst our networks. However I decided to hold back until the NCRB replied to his recommendations.
The DG, NCRB, a serving officer of the Indian Police Service was prompt in replying to the Hon’ble MP. While gracefully welcoming his intervention, her reply indicates that NCRB is simply not interested in raising a finger to implement any one of the Hon’ble MP’s recommendations in the near future. For example, the Hon’ble MP had suggested that the template be revised to capture the number of murders of RTI users, social activists, whistleblowers and mediapersons separately in addition to the instances of grievous hurts. Currently these cases are clubbed into one category ‘Murder” with no breakups being given. There is no way of differentiating the thousands of other murders from these attacks that occur every month. He had also suggested that such information be passed on to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and similarly placed constitutional and statutory authorities for prompt remedial action.
The NCRB has politely rejected all these suggestions. It replied that such disaggregate data capture and disclosure is not a feasible proposition. This reply flies awkwardly in the face of the NCRB’s own record of capturing data about the motivation for murders presented in Crime in India Reports year after year. For example, Table 3.3- a standard feature of such Annual Reports records the following reasons for murder and culpable-homicide-not-amounting-to-murder along with the number of victims of such crime, namely: “gain”, “property dispute”, “personal vendetta or enmity”, “dowry”, “witchcraft”, “child/human sacrifice”, “communalism”, “casteism”, “political reasons”, “honour killing”, “rape”, “gang rape”, “love affairs”, “illicit relationships”, “kidnapping and abduction” and believe it nor not – “class conflict” (Marx and Engels must be smiling in their graves approvingly) and last of all- “lunacy”. So why is it so difficult to add four more categories, namely, “RTI activists”, “social activists”, “whistleblowers” and “mediapersons” in the monthly data collection template?
As for sending this data month on month to authorities such as the NHRC and other similarly placed bodies, the NCRB replies that this would be difficult as such data is not regularly supplied by the States and Union Territories. However the NCRB assures that when the Crime and Criminal Tracking and Networking and Systems – CCTNS – a mission mode project becomes fully functional, such sharing of information would be possible. Until then the NCRB is not willing to update the information on its website either. CCTNS is going on as a “mission mode” since 2009. There is very little information about this whole project in the public domain. The Government’s reply to a query raised in the Lok Sabha reveals that the project is plagued with way many problems. Of the Rs. 81,374 lakhs released to the States and the UTs till date only Rs. 55,217 lakhs is said to have been utilised at the beginning of the current financial year. The project was to have become fully functional this year. However there is a provision to extend it by one more year until it reaches full functionality. No budgetary allocation has been made for CCTNS in the current financial year’s budget.
So until CCTNS takes shape, data about murders of RTI activists, social activists, whistleblowers and mediapersons will not become officially transparent. However, by the NCRB’s own admission, the data that they are collecting in the attached template is for responding to queries raised in Parliament and State Legislatures by people’s elected representatives. So while they have the right to get such information on demand, the people who elected them will have to wait until CCTNS becomes operational. Whatever happened to the proviso under Section 8(1) of the Central Right to Information Act, 2005 which states that “Information which cannot be denied to Parliament or the State Legislature shall not be denied to any person”?
Of course NCRB goes through a lot of trouble to collect data about crime in India, Its efforts are much appreciated. However, when it has started the task of collecting monthly data on attacks on RTI users, social activists, whistleblowers and mediapersons, why should available data not be placed on its website? This would be a good way of naming and shaming States, UTs and cities that do not submit such data on time and increase public pressure on them to gather and furnish the data to NCRB. It is in this spirit that the Hon’ble MP recommended that the template be discussed widely and revised. In typical bureaucratic fashion, NCRB welcomed the idea of public discussion without committing itself to such a programme or a timeline. In other words, the recommendations made by the MP have been consigned to the records room. Will they be pulled out for the next round of revision of the data capturing template remains to be seen.
It is most unfortunate that the NCRB has adopted a go-slow attitude towards the serious phenomenon of attacks on well-meaning do-gooder citizens who are risking their lives everyday to unearth and expose corruption, human rights violations and other kinds of wrong doing. Instead of treating only the police departments as its partners, the NCRB needs to look upon the entire citizenry as stakeholders deeply interested in reducing crime and bringing criminals to book. To the best of my knowledge. crime data collection templates have never been placed in the public domain for getting people’s feedback and comments. I am willing to stand corrected if readers will show that such a public consultation exercise had been undertaken in the past outside of the elite decision-making levels in Governments. It is well known world-wide that crime can be combatted and reduced only by partnering with the citizenry in a meaningful and effective manner. Guns and batons alone cannot help prevent or reduce crime much.
We must get our act together to bring pressure on the NCRB to revise its data collection template through a process of public consultation and upload the data on its website on an as-is-where-is basis. NCRB owes at least this much to the memory of the RTI activists, whistleblowers, social activists and journalists who have laid down their lives to protect the public interest.
*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi