Home Ministry declines information on rules for using civilians as `human shields’
Remember the video that went viral in April this year, of a youth tied to a army pilot vehicle? He was being driven around by security forces during counter-insurgency operations at Budgaum in Jammu & Kashmir? (Here is the link: the video of a youth tied to a pilot vehicle). The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has rejected information about the incident under Right to Information (RTI) Act.
 
After this video went viral, opinion was divided over the legitimacy of security forces using a civilian as a 'human shield'. Those supportive of this action argued that it saved the lives of election officials on duty and security forces faced a huge stone-pelting mobs, since July, 2016; others roundly condemned the action another instance of highhanded action by the armed forces.
 
In May 2013, P Kumar, AIADMK MP from Trichy constituency in Tamil Nadu asked (Unstarred Question #6497 presented in the 15th Lok Sabha on 07/05/2013 ) whether complaints of villagers in border areas about being used as `human shields' by naxals is true. The then Ministry of Home Affairs had clearly stated that there is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in place which is in the draft status.  
 
Stumbling upon this Parliamentary query and reply a few days after the video went viral this April and shocked people, Venkatesh Nayak, RTI scholar, activist and coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) filed a RTI application with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and sought the following information:
 
  •  A clear photocopy of the instructions issued to all State Governments/CAPFs to adhere to the highest standards of human rights during anti-LWE operations, mentioned in the last para of the reply to paras #(c) and (d) of the said Unstarred Question;
 
  • A clear photocopy of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on ‘Maoists using villagers as human shields’ circulated to the Governments of LWE affected States and the CAPFs for consideration and comments;
 
  •  A clear photocopy of all comments received till date in relation to the SOP mentioned in para #(b) of this RTI application;
 
  • A clear photocopy of the latest version of the SOP relating to the use of civilians as human shields issued by the Central Government, if any; and
 
  • A clear photocopy of the latest version of the SOP relating to the use of civilians as human shields by militant groups issued by the Central Government in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Jammu and Kashmir."
 
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the MHA did not reply, two months after which Nayak filed First Appeal with the First Appellate Authority (FAA). He was denied information stating that, "I have examined your first appeal and found that the information/documents, sought in your RTI application dated 19 April 2017, are secret in nature and disclosure of such documents would prejudicially affect the security and strategic interests of the State.
 
Therefore the desired information/documents cannot be provided as per Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, 2005."
 
Nayak says he is filing second appeal with the Information commission saying this information is of larger public interest because, "If SOPs regarding the use of 'human shields' are placed in the public domain, victims will be able to demand accountability from the State when the SOPs are transgressed. Transparency will also facilitate a fuller- debate on the use of 'human shields' by any agency, be it State forces or non-State actors. It can be a big confidence building measure in areas like J&K.''
 
Nayak informs that, in July, acting on the plaint of a victim, the J&K State Human Rights Commission directed the Government to pay Rs10 lakh as compensation, unequivocally describing what some called a "life-saving strategy” as "humiliation, physical and psychological torture and wrongful confinement" of the victim.  The law does not permit this even for a convict (person found guilty of any crime by a competent court). More recently, the media has reported the unwillingness of some unnamed security officers to follow such coercive measures. Instead, they have expressed the desire to build better relations with local residents in conflict-affected areas. 
 
SOPs related to States affected by left-wing militancy are in order, as per the reply by the Union Minister to the question in Lok Sabha in 2013. It states: "The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) have sensitised their field formations to take utmost care to avoid casualties/injuries and any form of harassment of locals while undertaking anti-naxal operations even when they are used as human shields by the Maoists.... The Government of India has issued instructions to all State Governments/CAPFs to adhere to the highest standards of human rights during anti-LWE operations and to strictly deal with aberrations..." 
 
As per an RTI reply to Nayak in 2012, the MHA had admitted that no such SOP had been issued for J&K. However the Amy had issued instructions as follows:
 
1.  Remember that the people you are dealing with, are your own countrymen. All your conduct must be dictated by this one significant consideration.
 
2. Operations must be people friendly, using minimum force and avoiding collateral damage – restraint must be the key.
 
3. Be compassionate, help the people and win their hearts. Employ all resources under your command to improve their living conditions."
 
Says Nayak, “The Army's 'Do's and Dont's' as well as the COAS's Ten Commandments are described as "binding instructions" and any disregard of these instructions would entail suitable action under Army Act, 1950. Do these commandments apply to J&K? That is the billion rupee question.’’
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
 
 
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    Meenal Mamdani

    2 years ago

    I used to believe that J&K were better off with India than Pakistan which had military rule during most of its years since Independence.
    Sadly, the continued presence of the military in J&K and the primacy of AFSPA over civilian laws makes me wonder if J&K is that much better off with India.
    Such a shame that ALL the govts at the center have ignored and subverted the desires of the people of J&K to determine their own destiny.
    There was a time when India seemed more open to the aspirations of the Kashmiris. Now India and Pakistan are equally culpable in suppressing their identity.

    RTI about usage of Armed Forces Flag Day Fund stalled
    Misuse of Armed Forces Flag Day Fund, money for which is annually collected from civilians for the benefit of widows of soldiers, of disabled soldiers, sailors, airmen, ex-servicemen and their dependents, as confirmed by the audit report, has apparently resulted in profiteering for vested interest. Lack of transparency in the use of these public funds, donated by government employees and ex-servicemen on 7th December, besides voluntary donations throughout the year, has exasperated activists who are denied information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
     
    The Army Flag Fund has two kinds of offices: one, District Sainik Welfare Office spread over all districts that comes under the State Sainik Welfare Office, and Maharashtra Ex Servicemen Corp Ltd (MESCO), which was established in 2002 to provide large scale employment to the ex-servicemen in their home state. MESCO is headquartered in Pune. 
     
    It is also pertinent to mention here that that the usage of Armed Forces Flag Day Fund is divided into two categories: Benevolent Fund, for giving grants for ex-servicemen for their children’s education, marriages and so on, and the Special Fund, used for the upkeep of estates of various Departments of Zilla Sainik Welfare (ZSW), like hostels for children of ex-servicemen and guesthouses. The proposer of the fund disbursement is the ZSW officer. The audit report in question is for the Pune’s ZSW and MESCO.
     
    As per the audit report, the District Sainik Welfare office (which disburses the funds) has been charged with indulging in irregular expenditure like purchase of vehicles, liquor served at an official function, an Air Force rally and so on. And where works are outsourced by  MESCO there are issues like non-recovery of penalties from contractors, full payments to contractors without completion of work, not following tender procedure while giving out contracts, construction and civil works without administrative approval or without a demand raised by the zilla sainik welfare officer, which is mandatory.
     
    In order to procure information of the alleged financial irregularities of both the entities, Sangramsinh Gaikwad has filed 22 applications under RTI over the past two years. The information sought was regarding various constructions. MESCO’s Public Information Officer (PIO) replied that the information comprises 42,000 odd pages, copies of tender notices and misuse of Army Flag Funds and hence Gaikwad should come for inspection of files and ask for copies of specific pages. 
     
    However, says Gaikwad, “When we went there and were ready to pay the money accordingly, verbally the PIO denied the copies stating that the Director has ordered so. We again wrote a letter to PIO asking him to give in writing that the Director has ordered not to supply information under RTI. Since he did not reply, we filed First Appeal. The Appellate Authority gave vague reasons for denial of information after which we have filed Second Appeal with Pune Division’s Information Commissioner and the matter has been pending there since the last six months.” 
     
    The director who is allegedly stalling information is MESCO’s managing director, Colonel Suhas Jatkar (Retd), who also hold the dual post as Director of State Sainik Welfare office and Managing Director of MESCO. Official complaints have been made against him to the Maharashtra Chief Minister as well as the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), due to matters arising out of his conflict of interest as he holds both the offices. This, despite a notification way back in 2003 that there should be two separate heads for both these outfits.
     
    Alleges Gaikwad, “While the establishment of MESCO was to primarily recruit and provide security jobs for ex-servicemen, when Col Jatkar became Director of the State Sainik Welfare office, he gave a loan from Flag Day Fund to MESCO to start an industrial park for giving it to ex-servicemen to start their outfits but there was no such provision for this. The park was ready but it did not get a favourable response. So this Rs20 lakh diversion was unauthorised as there is no provision to give such loans to a state owned corporation but the loans could be given to any ESM Organisation for specific activity. This loan has neither been returned nor the Flag Day Fund been paid interest on it. And since then, there have been many more irregularities, mostly in construction, because of which I am using RTI.”
     
    “Allegations of siphoning of funds from ZSWs for contracts for construction through MESCO, which mostly are sub-contracted to private entities, are beyond the rules of use of Flag Day fund. There is no reason why Public Works Department (PWD) could not be used as a contractor and thus save money. Also, there are allegations that constructions are done without the respective Zilla Sainik Officer, proposing them. These irregularities have been reflected in the audit report,” he added.
     
    In the meanwhile, Commander Ravindra Pathak (retd), who has been writing fervently to various authorities, has recently shot off a complaint to the Prime Minister’s Office, against Col Jatkar, stating that the AG report has raised many observations with regard to misuse of funds. The PMO, through the Kendriya Saink Board, has asked the Chief Secretary to investigate but to date there has been no action. 
     
    Box:
    What is The Armed Forces Flag Day?
     
    The Armed Forces Flag Day or the Flag Day of India is a day dedicated towards collection of funds from people of India for the welfare of the Indian Armed Forces personnel. It has been observed annually in India on 7th December since 1949. Over the years, it has become a tradition to commemorate this day as an honour to the soldiers, airmen and sailors of India. 
     
    Flag Day gains more significance as it considers that it is the responsibility of the civilian population of India to take care of the families and dependents of the armed forces personnel who fight for the country. Like the Kendriya Sainik Board at the Centre, the Rajya/Zila Sainik Boards are responsible for policy formulation and implementation of resettlement and welfare schemes for Ex-Servicemen, widows and their dependents residing in their respective States / UTs / Districts. To assist the Central Government in this regard, there are 32 Rajya Sainik Boards and 392 Zila Sainik Boards in the country.
     
    The Armed Forces Flag Day addresses and collects funds for three important aspects of defence services – Rehabilitation of battle casualties, Welfare of those in service and their families, and resettlement and welfare of ex-servicemen and their families.
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.) 
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    jaideep shirali

    2 years ago

    If the government, whether at the State or Centre, wonders why government run charity funds do not attract as much donations as private charities, this article answers that question. The Maharashtra CM Relief Fund was some years back, used to send a dance troupe overseas, rather than use the funds properly. The state government decided dancers needed the funds more than farmers who were and are still regularly committing suicide. Apparently, the moment someone occupies a seat of power in government, the disease of corruption claims him. That this disease is not allowed to be cured speaks volumes of our law makers and law enforcers.

    Maharashtra govt has no record of Mumbai farmers
    Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis while announcing loan waiver scheme for farmers had said that there were 813 beneficiaries from Mumbai. However, the state government has no record of any such farmer covered under the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Farmers’ Welfare Scheme in Mumbai city and Mumbai suburbs, reveals a reply received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
     
    According to information received by activist Anil Galgali from the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Cooperation, Marketing and Textiles Department, "the government receives information from the State level Bankers Committee and according to that information, 694 farmers from Mumbai city have outstanding loans amounting to Rs45.04 crore and 119 farmers from Mumbai suburbs have a outstanding loans amounting to Rs0.12 crore on the basis of assumption. The government does not have the list of farmers with their names and the list is with the bankers."
     
    Galgali says, the state government, which had announced the loan waiver scheme for farmers had recently released the list of names of the beneficiaries. He says, “I too had apprehension about the presence of farmers in Mumbai, hence I sought the information from the government.”   
     
    "The government does not have any list on its records and without cross verification and due diligence by the authorities, CM Fadnavis was given the data on assumption is a very serious lapse in the administration front," Galgali says.
     
    In July, the CM released list of beneficiary farmers on Twitter that included 694 farmers from Mumbai and 119 from Mumbai suburbs. These were the farmers from a list of beneficiaries eligible for the Rs34,000 crore loan waiver scheme announced by the state government. 
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