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Background- Cantonments & Military Stations in India

Cantonments derive their name from Swiss Cantons, or districts and were set up by the British in India for entirely different reasons. When the British troops arrived in India, they fell sick very often due to malaria, dysentery and other infectious and waterborne diseases. These diseases also took a toll on Indian troops. Thus it was decided to create Army cantonments well away from cities, often in the wilderness, at the very outskirts of city limits. The additional advantage of such a move was that parades, training and marches with horse’s, mules etc would not inconvenience the local population. It also helped in keeping the native soldiers isolated from the local developments, thereby ensuring their apolitical character.

It is to the credit of the Army that these outlying areas where they were shunted away, became islands of excellence and oasis of greenery; the modern equivalent of smart cities. Today, they are the lungs and biodiversity havens of most cities.

The first cantonment was established in Barrackpore in 1765 and the last one created recently was Ajmer. There are a total of 62 cantonments, mostly in Central and Western Command. These are distinct from military stations which number about 2000 and are exclusive for the army. The current order on road opening thankfully does not apply to military stations.

The Army is fully considerate of the needs of the Nation and has not only allowed access to cantonments but also given away prime defence land for public good. The Delhi metro link from Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi going to the airport is entirely built on defence land given by the army. So is the Dwarka flyover coming to Palam and beyond. The new road to airport in Hyderabad and Chennai has been given access through defence land. Cantonments have also parted with hundreds of acres of land to expand airports in places like Gwalior and many more.

The imbroglio

While Cantonment roads leading to civilian areas have always been open to public, however, internal roads where military units, installations & HQ are located cannot be declared public roads & thrown open to everyone without ensuring mandatory security checks.

Military areas of Cantonments have been defined as Prohibited areas & are not under cCantonments Board

Administration of Defence Land in Military Cantonments is governed by the Cantonment Land Administration Rules (CLAR) 1937. These have been notified by Govt on the authority of powers conferred upon it underCantonments Act. Though the Cantonments Act 2006 has now replaced earlier Cantonments Act 1924, the CLAR have remained unchanged. Section 4 of CLAR defines Classification of Cantonment Lands. Class A & B Lands which are required for Military purposes are not vested with Cantonment Boards. Cantonment Boards are vested with Class C Lands which mainly comprise of civilian areas/ non-military areas. Hence, Cantonment Boards govern only those areas of Cantonment which are located on Class C Lands.

Classification of Cantonment lands as per CLA Rules 1937
Classification of Cantonment lands as per CLA Rules 1937

On the other hand, Class A & B Lands are governed by Military Authorities in accordance with provisions contained in Officials Secrets Act & Defence Services Regulations. As per Section 2(8)(a) of Official Secrets Act 1923, all Military areas/ establishments fall under the category of Prohibited places.

Prohibited place according to Official Secrets Act
Prohibited place according to Official Secrets Act

Trespassing/entering into Prohibited areas without valid Identity & Purpose is a criminal offence under Section 3 & 5 of Officials Secrets Act. It is punishable under CrPC, as clarified in Section 12 of OS Act.

Armed Forces are empowered under Officials Secrets Act 1923

Armed Forces personnel have been empowered under Sections 7& 8 of OS Act 1923 to implement the security provisions in Military areas as applicable to Prohibited areas. Interfering with members of Armed Forces while implementing provisions of Officials Secret Act is a punishable offence under Section 7 & 8 of said Act.

Procedure to be adopted for Security of Military areas/establishments/ installations

Procedure to be adopted by Armed Forces personnel for ensuring security of military areas/ installations has been prescribed by Govt in Paras 1160, 1161 & Appendix AD of Defence Services Regulations 1987 (Revised). Armed Forces are empowered to establish check posts, barriers etc & ascertain identity of visitors before allowing them entry into military areas of Cantonments. Relevant extracts from DSR are placed below.

Court Judgements upholding authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments

The legal validity of CLAR 1937, inapplicability of Cantonments Board Act 2006 over military areas, applicability of Officials Secrets Act 1923 over military areas & the applicability of authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments has been unambiguously upheld by a Bench of Andhra Pradesh High Court in its Judgement dated 26 September 2014. AP High Court had ruled on a collection of writ petitions and PILs against the closure of the 14 roads in Secunderabad Cantonment mentioned by the Defence Minister. Dismissing all the petitions, the Hon’ble High Court had ruled that these closures were valid and within defined powers of the Military authorities. On the other hand, it took cognisance of the fact that petitioners wanted to use these roads “for convenience or because of their better motorability”, a matter that “required immediate attention of the civilian authorities” who should “take expeditious steps to improve the alternate roads so that ordinary people are not subject to any inconvenience.” It further stated that “the army authorities have imposed restrictions in a phased manner and such decision cannot be held as one made in an arbitrary manner.” Since the Cantonment Act of 2006 is cited in above judgement, it is clear that the ruling did not consider any irregularity vis a vis the same. It’s on the strength of this Judgement that the 14 roads had been closed in Secunderabad despite orders by MoD.

Illegal settlements/ colonies/ structures adjacent to military installations

As per Section 7 of Works of Defence Act 1903, constructions are prohibited upto a specified distance from perimeter of notified Defence installations for security considerations. However, over the years, a huge number of illegal settlements/ structures have come up in notified areas. Though the Cantonments were originally set up away from habitation, these have now become prime locations due to growth of towns/ cities around them. Many of the illegal settlements/ structures belong to politically influential people. The case in point is ongoing construction of illegal structure on the land acquired by ruling Party leader in Nagrota in J&K next to ammunition dump, despite objections by Army.

Encroachment of Defence Land

Presently over 11,000 acres of Defence Land is under illegal encroachments. Total value of encroached land runs in thousands of crores of rupees. Most of these encroachers have links with political parties/ political personalities. State wise details of encroachments as informed to Parliament in August 2014 are given below:-

Illegal occupation/ conversion of Grand Old Bungalows (OGB)

There are 2724 OGBs whose lease period has already expired. The lease holders were barred from carrying out any additions/alterations/conversions. However, most of these have been converted into commercial establishments, hotels, including shopping malls. Most of these have changed many hands and are presently in the hands of influential political/ business personalities. Despite Hon’ble SC ruling in May 2014 clearing all legal hurdles for reclaiming all OGBs, officials with vested interests in Govt have not allowed taking over of these Bungalows till date. Resumption sanction has been accorded only in 660 cases, of which only 508 have been physically Resumed till date.

Loss of Revenue due to Non Renewal of Lease

There are number of Govt properties on Defence land which are on lease for commercial/ recreational/ residential purposes. The lease deed of these properties has not been renewed for decades deliberately by DGDE Officials. In addition, there are numerous properties which are without any lease agreement. All this has been resulting in huge annual revenue loss to Govt, running in thousands of crores. In Delhi alone, this loss amounts to hundreds of crores annually.

Who is Responsible for Encroachments, Loss of Revenue & Gross Mismanagement of Defence Land & Defence Properties

Over 99% of cases of encroachments, loss of revenue & mismanagement of Defence Land pertains to Class B/ C Lands. As per CLAR 1937 & Cantonments Board Act 2006, DG Defence Estates (DGDE) is responsible for management of these Lands/ properties. Encroachments & Mismanagement of Defence Lands has been well documented in annual CAG Reports. However, encroachments & mismanagement cases have only been increasing with each passing year. Relevant Extracts from CAG Reports are placed below.

How serious is the nexus between DGDE, MoD Officials & Encroachers

Unable to control encroachments, Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) was tasked in 2010 to carry out a systems study & detailed analysis of management of Defence Lands. CGDA in its Report concluded that there is deep nexus between DGDE Officials and encroachers & that this nexus has become so entrenched that it is not possible to break free. It has resulted in systematic loot of Govt land. It found DGDE failing in all four of its functions- audit, accounting, acquisition & financial management. Hence, CGDA recommended for disbandment of DGDE & prosecution of its officials.

Events leading to current illegal orders by MoD

While CGDA recommended prosecution of DGDE officials & disbandment of DGDE in 2010, nothing actually happened on ground due to their nexus with MoD officials. As a result, encroachments kept increasing & Govt coffers kept bleeding of its revenue. In May 2014, Hon’ble SC delivered a historic judgement related to Old Grand Bungalows, paving way for Govt to reclaim all 2724 OGBs. The present occupants of these Bungalows include MPs, MLAs (from all parties), civil servants & prominent businessmen. In Sep 2014, Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh delivered another Judgement, clarifying that jurisdiction of Cantonment Board does not extent to military areas of Cantonments & that LMA is empowered to close roads in military areas. The Court directed State Govt to provide alternate roads to civil population. In the same year the issue of encroachment of Defence Land was raised in Parliament. In a written reply to Lok Sabha MP Poonam Mahajan in August 2014, then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley admitted that around 11,455 acres of defence land had been encroached. Following these reports, Common Cause, an NGO based out of Delhi, along with Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), filed a petition in the Supreme Court concerning the unauthorised use and encroachment of defence land. The petition alleged that “crass mismanagement of Defence lands is intrinsically linked to irregularities, illegalities and corruption”. The petition relied heavily on CAG reports, and is still sub judice. The last order passed by the Court was on August 25, 2017.

Hidden Agenda behind Opening of Internal Cantonment Roads

Instead of implementing the SC Judgement for reclaiming OGBs & AP High Court Judgement for creating alternate routes, the local MPs of Cantonment areas built an alliance of interest with local representatives of areas adjoining the 62 cantonments. This group seems to have started the whole discussion de novo once Ms Sitharaman was appointed the Defence Minister. She & her husband are known to own residential & commercial properties around Hyderabad-Secunderabad Cantonments.

The Local Military Authorities (LMAs) have been regularly raising these issues. The market value of encroached land & properties runs in hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees. However, corruption is so deep rooted in Defence Estates & MoD that, instead of implementing Court Judgements, these Officials by using their powerful nexus have now been able to force the Govt to give them overriding powers thereby making the LMAs irrelevant. Unrestricted opening of Cantonments roads is one such decision pushed by these Officials at the behest of encroachers & illegal occupiers of Defence land & Defence properties to facilitate their consolidation. National security considerations matter least to these looters of Govt land. This is likely to further facilitate encroachments & consolidation illegally occupied properties. See the details of parleys held by RM with these eople without involvement of Military Authorities.

Illegality of Orders by RM

The Orders by RM are in contravention to provisions of Official Secrets Act, Cantonments Act, CLAR & Defence Services Regulations. Not only do these instructions completely ignore the AP High Court Judgement of September 2014 and subsequent deliberations and the decision by her predecessor Mr Parrrikar, but also subsume the powers of the GOC-in-C to be the final authority for closing any roads as laid down in the Act of 2006. RM had repeatedly quoted provisions of Cantonments Act which are not applicable to military areas of Cantonments. The instructions by RM for unconditional opening of all Cantonment roads quoting inapplicable Section of Cantonments Act clearly amounts to contempt of court. These have far reaching adverse implications not only on Cantonment Security but also on attempts to control encroachment of Govt land. AF pers have been performing their bonafide military duty when controlling entry into military areas for last so many decades. Placing of of check posts/ barriers etc & ascertaining of identity of visitors is part of prescribed procedures.
The instructions by RM have been issued after consultations with DGDE officials, MoD Officials & local area representatives, who have vested interests in opening of Cantonment

Roads. Whether she was misled or she has been deliberately misleading the Nation remains to be seen.

1

Dear all,

The Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India has invited comments on a new set of Draft Rules (available in English only) to implement The Right to Information Act, 2005. The RTI Rules were last amended in 2012 after a long period of consultation with various stakeholders. The Government's move to put the draft RTI Rules out for people's comments and suggestions for change is a welcome continuation of the tradition of public consultation.

Positive aspects of the Draft RTI Rules

While 60-65% of the Draft RTI Rules repeat the content of the 2012 RTI Rules, some new aspects deserve appreciation as they clarify the manner of implementation of key provisions of the RTI Act. These are:

  1. Provisions for dealing with non-compliance of the orders and directives of the Central Information Commission (CIC) by public authorities- this was missing in the 2012 RTI Rules. Non-compliance is increasingly becoming a major problem- two of my non-compliance cases are pending before the CIC;
  2. Posting of non-compliance cases involving public interest before larger Benches of the CIC;
  3. Procedure for filing complaints under Section 18(1) of the RTI Act;
  4. Prescription of formats for filing appeals and complaints, without making them mandatory;
  5. Making it mandatory for the public authority to serve an advance copy of its counter to an appeal or complaint on the appellant/complainant.

Despite these positive elements, there are several problematic areas in the Draft Rules.

Problematic aspects of the Draft RTI Rules

To begin with, the very approach to the Rule-making exercise has not moved from a bureaucratic one to a citizen-friendly one. Some of the new proposals seem to be inspired by the overtly bureaucratic and largely citizen-unfriendly RTI Rules notified in Uttar Pradesh since 2015. The Uttar Pradesh State Information Commission has not been able to publish any Annual Report during the last 13 years of implementation of the RTI Act. At the end of February, 2017 more than 48,000 appeals and complaints were pending before the UPIC. So with due respect, it must be pointed out, UP cannot become the model for RTI implementation for the rest of India.

Instead, with a truly citizen-friendly set of RTI Rules and a more than 90% rate of disposal of appeals and complaints between 2005 and 2016, Uttarakhand should be treated as the model, at least for the framing of the RTI Rules (see attachment for UTK's RTI Rules). CHRI had brought this model to the DoPT in 2016.

Major problem areas in the DoPT's Draft RTI Rules are given below:

Allowing for the withdrawal and abatement of appeals is like a death sentence

Draft Rule 12 seeks to empower the CIC to permit withdrawal of an appeal if an appellant makes a written request. Pending appeals proceedings will come to an end automatically with the death of the appellant. In 2011, the DoPT had proposed a similar provision which civil society vehemently opposed. Both measures were dropped because civil society actors were able to highlight media reports of murderous attacks on RTI users who sought information of public interest. The Draft Rules have reintroduced this idea seemingly inspired by Rule 13 of the UP RTI Rules, 2015.

In 2017, there are more than 375 recorded instances of attacks on citizens who sought information to expose corruption and wrongdoing in various public authorities. Of these, 56 are murders, at least 157 cases of physical assault and more than 160 cases of harassment and threats some of which have resulted in death by suicide. UP alone accounts for 6 alleged murders, 10 cases of physical assault and at least 9 cases of harassment since 2005. By legally permitting withdrawal of appeals vested interests will feel emboldened to pressurise RTI users to withdraw their appeals before the CIC. If this proposed Rule becomes law at the Centre, most other States will make similar amendments, thereby unwittingly jeopardising the life and safety of RTI users. These amendments must not be allowed to go through when the Whistleblower Protection Act, 2011 has been put in cold storage and Parliament is being called upon to approve a regressive set of amendments that will effectively discourage all whistleblowing in the country and permit the prosecution of the few courageous ones under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

Further, in Union of India vs Namit Sharma (2013) the Supreme Court recognised and accepted CHRI's argument (made as an Intervenor) that RTI appeals and complaints are not in the nature of a lis (dispute- civil or criminal in nature where rights of parties have to be decided). RTI Act deals with administrative matters only- whether or not the requested information ought to be disclosed. This is why the Apex Court ruled that the Information Commissions established under the RTI Act are only administrative tribunals, not quasi-judicial tribunals. So, given this understanding of RTI appeals and complaints there is no reason why an appeal should come to an end on the death of the appellant. Instead the CIC should pursue the matter and rule in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act. Where information is directed to be disclosed, it may be proactively displayed on the website of the concerned public authority and a copy sent to the deceased's address so that the family or friends may make use of it. Retention of the abatement Rule will encourage more murderous attacks on RTI users to silence them and put an and to the proceedings before the CIC.

Turning appeals and complaints procedures into complex court procedures

Draft Rule 8(1)(viii), (ix) and (3) and Draft Rule 13(1)(vi) and (3), require an appellant or a complainant, as the case may be, to serve an advance copy of all documents and written submissions to the public authority and attach evidence of having done this. This must be done "before submitting the appeal or the complaint" to the CIC. This procedure which is followed in courts where 'lis' (see immediately previous paragraph) are decided, is completely unsuited for the CIC. An appeal or a complaint becomes such only upon submission to the CIC. Until it is submitted to the CIC is is only a "draft appeal" or "draft complaint". Instead the Rule should specify that a copy of the complaint/appeal should be transmitted to the public authority concerned simultaneously or after submission to the CIC with proof to be shown at the time of hearing.

This principle is already evidenced in Draft Rule 19. A public authority is required to serve a copy of its counter statement to an appellant or complainant only after it is submitted to the CIC. There is no reason why an appellant or complainant should be subjected to a different standard of treatment.

Mandatory requirement of an RTI application in complaint cases

Despite providing separate procedures for submitting appeals and complaints, the Draft Rules do not seem to have understood the difference between these two remedies. In the matter of Chief Information Commr. Manipur & Anr. vs State of Manipur & Anr. (2011) the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India clarified that it is mandatory to use the 2-tiered appeals procedure give under Section 19 of the Act if the RTI applicant is aggrieved by any action of the CPIO or the First Appellate Authority. The complaints procedure under Section 18 of the Act is meant for supervisory purposes only. It is possible to file a complaint against a public authority, for example, for not complying with the strict obligation of proactive information disclosure under Section 4(1) of the RTI Act. An RTI application should not be required to access such information. This is clearly mentioned in Section 4(2) of the RTI Act which requires every public authority to take action to make more and more information publicly available so that people's need to make formal requests for information is reduced. If such information is not posted on the website of the public authority, it should be possible to file a complaint directly with the CIC. A copy of the RTI application should not be made a mandatory support document in such cases, as there will not be any.

No person other than a designated officer should decide first appeals

Even though the Draft Rules do not provide for a procedure for deciding first appeals, Draft Rule 10(a) opens up the possibility of such cases being decided by "any other person competent" who is not designated as the first appellate authority. This is a contravention of Section 19(1) of the RTI Act which requires an officer senior in rank to be designated as the first appellate authority to receive and decide first appeals and complaints from RTI applicants who are aggrieved by a CPIO's decision or inaction. Reference to "any other person competent to decide" must be deleted from Draft Rule 19(a).

No time limits for serving notice of hearings on appellants and complainants

While the Draft Rules introduce time limits that complainants must observe for filing complaints, there are no time limits for ensuring that notice of a hearing in an appeal or complaint reaches the citizen well in advance. Draft Rule 18 must be amended to require the CIC to ensure that notice of every hearing in an appeal or complaint must be delivered to the person at least 15 days in advance of the date of such hearing. Time limts should be applicable to everybody and not only appellants and complainants.

Posting matters of non-compliance before other Commissioner(s)

Draft Rule 17 leaves it to the discretion of the Chief Information Commissioner to post a non-compliance matter before a 'Bench' other than which decided the initial matter or before a larger Bench. First, given the finding of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in the matter of Union of India vs Namit Sharma (2013) that the CIC is only an administrative tribunal, it would be improper to label Commissioners sitting to hear and decide cases as 'Benches'. Second, the Rules must provide for posting a non-compliance matter before another Commissioner or a set of Commissioners on the request of the appellant/complainant also.

DoPT does not seem to be keeping up with the NDA's digital revolution

Draft Rule 4 continues to prescribe fees for providing information in the form of 'diskettes and floppies'. Both forms of electronic storage have become outdated. The DoPT must recognise that information can be provided electronically through email, flash drives or CDs/DVDs. The Rules must prescribe fees for providing information through these methods. The DoPT is directly under the Hon'ble Prime Minister who is pushing India towards the digital age in the TINA mode (There Is No Alternative mode) without ascertaining whether people want it or not and if there is adequate infrastructure and awareness amongst people for so doing. It must discard floppies and diskettes and adopt more modern methods of information storage.

What is missing from the amendment proposals

  1. No procedure for deciding first appeals: The Draft Rules are silent on the procedure to be adopted by the first appellate authority (FAA) for deciding first appeals from citizens aggrieved by a decision or inaction of the CPIO. According to the RAAG Study published in 2013, the first appeals system has become nearly defunct across the country. One of the reasons for this is the absence of detailed rules for disposing first appeals. The UP RTI Rules also do not provide for a first appeals procedure. However, the Uttarakhand RTI Rules contain a detailed procedure for disposing first appeals. CHRI had sent a copy of the Uttarakhand Rules to the DoPT in 2016. The enthusiasm for adopting the UP model seems to have resulted in the DoPT completely ignoring the Uttarakhand model.
  2. No Rules for deciding appeals in life and liberty cases: The RTI Act provides for the disclosure of information concerning the life and liberty of a person on an urgent basis- within 48 hours. However the Act is silent on the timelines for disposing appeals and complaints in cases relating to life and liberty. A citizen is compelled to wait for 45 days for the FAA's order and then endlessly for the CIC's order. This lacuna could have been corrected in he Draft Rules, 2017 but they are silent on this issue.
  3. No time limit for CIC to decide cases: A major problem that almost every RTI user and also studies commissioned by the DoPT and civil society recognise is the long delays in disposal of appeals and complaints filed before the CIC. The Draft Rules do not prescribe a time limit for the CIC to dispose of such cases. The MP RTI Rules require the State Information Commission (SIC) to dispose of appeals in 180 days. The J&K RI Act requires the SIC to dispose of second appeals within 120 days at maximum. The RTI Rules must also lay down a practical time limit for the disposal of cases by the CIC. Instead, all time limits in the Draft Rules are imposed on citizens only.
  4. Increasing convenience for fee payments: Several RTI activists have called for the institution of special RTI stationery for payment of application and additional fees. Until such stationery is developed, it is advisable to increase the methods of fee payment to include money orders
  5. No procedure for penalty proceedings: The Delhi High Court has given multiple judgements that create confusion to the point of preventing an appellant or complainant from participating in a proceedings before the CIC to decide whether or not penalty may be imposed on the CPIO. The Draft Rules must be amended to allow the participation of the citizen in the penalty proceedings as the cause for action is always instituted by him or her through the appeal or complaint filed before the CIC. There is no justification for treating penalty proceedings solely as a matter between the CIC, the errant CPIO and the concerned public authority.
  6. No clarity of procedure to be followed in non-compliance cases: While the Draft Rules provide for the institution of a case about non-compliance with the CIC's orders, there is no clarity on how such proceedings must be conducted. Also, in all such cases penalty for non-compliance and recommendation of disciplinary action against the errant CPIO should be the default position unless he or she is able to demonstrate that the non-compliance was not due to disobedience or wilful negligence.

Consultation process is elitist

The DoPT's notification (in English) states that comments may be offered on the Draft RTI Rules, 2017 only via email by 15th April, 2017. With barely 25% citizens having access to the Internet, let alone email and most of them not conversant in English, this consultation exercise does not seem to adhere to the principle- 'sab ka saath' the first half of the hallmark slogan of the NDA Government. To prevent this consultation from becoming an elitist exercise, the time limit for consultation should be expanded to one month as there is no reason for rushing through this exercise and the text of the Draft Rules must be made available at least in Hindi, to start with. Several public authorities like the Department of Financial Services, Reserve Bank of India and the NHPC send replies to RTI applications in Hindi and at least one Central Information Commissioner has adopted the welcome measure of recording decisions in Hindi. There is no reason why the consultation cannot be made more broadbased as the DoPT's notification does not contain any justification for the hurried consultation process. According to the CIC, in 2015-16 9.6 lakh RTI applications were submitted to various public authorities in the Central Government and the Union Territories. Surely, many of these applicants would like to have their say in the consultation process.

It is advisable for the DoPT to make arrangements to listen to the Mann ki Baat of citizens as well. Surely, conversations can be called such, only when they are a two-way traffic of views.

Thanks

Venkatesh Nayak
Programme Coordinator - Access to Information Programme
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Website: www.humanrightsinitiative.org

“The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything, that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing": Justice K K Mathew, former Judge, Supreme Court of India, (1975)

"“Where a society has chosen to accept democracy as its credal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their government is doing": Justice P N Bhagwati, former Chief Justice, Supreme Court of India, (1981)

"Information is the currency that every citizen requires to participate in the life and governance of society”: Justice A. P. Shah, former Chief Justice, Delhi and Madras High Courts, (2010)

Mumbai, 28 April, 2015: Can the Police Cybercrime Cell target you for filing an online complaint on the Anti Corruption Bureau? Can Anti Curruption Bureau (ACB) pass on information about your online complaint to the Cybercrime Cell? Isn't ACB supposed to treat such complaints as confidential and investigate the subject of the complaint, rather than turning the spotlight on the complainant himself? On 14 Jan, 2015, Dr Mahesh A Deshmukh, MD, Fellow Rheumatology, based in Nanded, Maharashtra, received a call from Mr. Harshal Chavan, Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI), Office of the Superintendent of Police, asking him to come along with his wife to the SP's office the next morning, regarding a complaint of cybercrime against him. What followed was a harrowing three-week experience of repeatedly being called, "interrogated" and blackmailed for Rs 35,000 by the ASI with the connivance of a conman named Praveen Kumar Khandewal. Throughout this three-week nightmare, there was a continuous pressure on Dr Deshmukh to withdraw or water-down a complaint that he had made in August 2014 on ACB's portal. This happened with the cooperation of the designated Public Information Officer and possibly other office staff also at the SP's office. The IGP's office in Aurangabad may also have been part of this crime-ring.

The doctor was "interrogated" for an undisclosed complaint against him; he was denied a copy of the complaint against him even under Right to Information! The harassment abruptly stopped on 9 February, a couple of days after Praveen Kumar Khandewal was nabbed by police (see http://tinyurl.com/Fake-IPS-Officer-nabbed ). Mr Harshal Chavan, however, continues to be scot-free.

In a complaint letter dated 17 April, 2015 to Maharashtra Home Department and police higher-ups, Dr Mahesh Deshmukh describes the scam: http://tinyurl.com/Dr-Deshmukh-Complaint

EXCERPTS:

"Mr. Chavan asked me whether I was in Nagpur on 7 August 2014; I said yes. He asked my room number. I told him I didn’t remember. Then he told me it was room no 716 room of Radisson Blu hotel of Nagpur, and that he had each and every detail and CCTV footage of my activities during my stay at this hotel. My wife was sitting next to me, and he repeated many times that he had CCTV footage of all my activities during my stay at Radisson Blu Nagpur, implying that my activities were illegitimate. I made it clear that I was alone all the time, and I had not engaged in any activity for which I should feel ashamed or afraid.

"Mr. Chavan made an allegation that during my stay, I acted as an imposter for someone else (i.e. I pretended to be someone else) on the internet and lodged a complaint on the portal of Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB), and that the complaint was false, and therefore, ACB people had asked him to find out who had done it. He alleged that due to this particular complaint, there was harassment of some people and there was misuse of government machinery due to that “false complaint”. Mr. Chavan told me that he had all the digital records which proved that I used the hotel WIFI for lodging that particular complaint and he also had router details. He told me that he got all the details from Delhi. He showed me his laptop screen which had a diagram, which, according to him was digital evidence... necessary proof against me.

"He brought a small book and showed it to both of us, saying that according to law, he had to book me for cyber crime, and if I admitted guilt, then he would talk to senior officers and will see how he could help out, but he did not guarantee anything.

"Then he told me that if I gave in writing that I mistakenly complained, or inadvertently posted a draft of the complaint, then that also would be sufficient for him to help me out. During my wife’s interrogation, my wife was crying most of the time as he told us that we have committed a cybercrime by imposing someone. He also said that as that particular complaint made from the hotel room contained official secrets, I may be booked under Official Secrets Act also, and therefore my wife's job may be in jeopardy.

"At the end of this interrogation on 15 January, Mr. Harshal Chavan asked me whether we knew anyone in police department. I told him that I knew one person who said he was from the police force. Mr. Harshal Chavan asked me to call him and discuss this matter in front of him. I called my contact, Mr. Praveen Kumar Khandewal on mobile and told him what was going on. Then Mr. Harshal Chavan also talked with Mr. Praveen Kumar Khandewal on phone and told him that if we give him in writing what he asked, then there should be no problem."

SOME CRUCIAL QUESTIONS:

  • If this sort of cat-and-mouse game is played by a low-ranking ASI – just a notch above head-constable -- think about what sort of harassment must be meted out to unsuspecting citizens by cops who are placed higher up in the hierarchy! Everybody knows that the aam aadmi isn't safe... but is even an educated and influential citizen safe from blackmail by criminal-minded cops?

 

  • Anti Corrupion Bureau conducts campaigns publicly urges citizens to make complaints of corruption on its web portal and helplines. But if you and I trust ACB's campaigns and lodge a complaint, will we be treated with respect? Or will we be at the receiving end of such harassment and blackmail by cops?

For more details, mediapersons may contact Dr Mahesh Deshmukh on 07588584112 and mkahalekar@gmail.com.

For the other side of the story (assuming there is one), journalists and police higher-ups are also encouraged to call ASI Harshal Chavan 9821779921.