The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), for the first time, will begin collecting data from across the country on attacks on Right to Information (RTI) activists, journalists, social activists and whistleblowers. But the manner in which the data is being collected is likely to lead to under-reporting of the cases in the government database.
NCRB has circulated a new template to the states, to collect data from police stations. The data is compiled annually into Crime in India reports. The new template marks out three separate categories under which the data would be collected - attack on media persons, attack on whistleblowers and attack on RTI/social activists.
With the news of attacks against whistleblowers and RTI activists pouring in from across the country, this could be the first government database of such crimes. However, the database will record only in cases of 'grievous hurt of varying degrees', covered by Sections 325, 326, 326A and 326B of the Indian Penal Code.
In case an activist or media person dies in such an attack, the police records and the database would only capture it as one among other deaths; no separate classification is available for such a case. There are also other questions about the loopholes that the new template leaves open in the data collection process. "Will a first-time user of RTI who is attacked and survives be treated as an RTI / social activist is a moot question. The recent instance of the alleged murder of an RTI user who filed his first RTI application to inquire about police action against a suspected bootlegger in Gujarat might not even qualify for inclusion in this category," said Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
The identification of a whistleblower, too, would remain contentious especially with the Centre pushing amendments to the Whistleblowers Protection Act. The Lok Sabha passed the amendments in the last session. The Rajya Sabha's approval is pending. An NCRB source told Business Standard on condition of anonymity, "The template has been revised, but the matter of how these individuals are identified and classified is in different statutory provisions." Nayak said, "The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides a comprehensive list of such activists who work for accountability and social justice. These categories must be incorporated in the guidelines to capture all instances of attacks on individuals who are engaged in such activities." The data captured by the NCRB through this new template will be reflected in the report for 2015 published in 2016.