The Central Information Commission has directed the army to provide details of soldiers whose bodies were mutilated by insurgents and enemy soldiers during skirmishes on Pakistan and China borders.
The case resulted from a RTI application filed by Abhishek Shukla in 2013 as the army decided to keep under covers the information in this regard about the soldiers who had given supreme sacrifice for the country fighting enemies.
“People of the country have right to know about the soldiers who lay down their lives in the line of duty,” Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha said.
The army which was supposed to respond to an RTI application within 30 days, according to the law, took nearly 78 days to give its first response, after repeated reminders, to the RTI application rejecting to share any details citing section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act to withhold the information.
Section 8(1)(a) exempts information which can prejudicially affect security of the country. The first appeal before the senior officials of the army challenging the decision of Central Public Information Officer was also summarily rejected without going into the merits of arguments presented by the appellant.
Reluctant to share any information, the army raised an additional argument during the hearing before Sinha, a former senior Intelligence Bureau officer, saying that its Headquarters does not maintain the information of soldiers whose bodies have been mutilated by the enemy/terrorists.
The appellant countered it saying if they do not maintain the information, how was army citing national security to deny it and they could have said it in the RTI response.
The applicant also cited the statement given by the the then Defence Minister A K Antony in Rajya Sabha where he had given details of an incident of January 8, 2013.
“On 8th January 2013; a Pak Border Action Team (BAT) ambushed our patrol party in Krishna Ghati, Mendhar Sector in which Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh and Lance Naik Hemraj were killed. Lance Naik Hemraj was found beheaded and both bodies were mutilated. In addition, their weapons (INSAS) were taken,” Antony had said.
As per law, the information which can be placed before Parliament cannot be denied to a citizen under the RTI Act.
The appellant also cited a press conference of the then Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh who had accepted that the two jawans of Kumaon regiment had been beheaded by Pakistani army in 2012. The peition said if the Defence Minister of the country and the Army Chief can make public the kind of information sought by him, how can it be rejected taking excuse of the national security.
Agreeing with the contention of the appellant, Sinha rejected the arguments of the army which had claimed it was a sensitive issue that can prejudicially affect security of the country.
“Defence Minister has placed on record information regarding brutal killing/mutilation of soldiers on LoC in Rajya Sabha. Army Chief has also given details of the same in a press conference. Commission does not find any reason for withholding the same. Contention of CPIO to invoke section 8(1)(a) to deny the information is rejected,” Sinha said.
He directed the army to provide the details sought by the appellant within 15 days.