Secrecy. This is what the Centre seems to be loving the most. As we see the government is hiding and suppressing real data about various sectors concerning public life and living our belief gets stronger that while transparency is a cornerstone of democracy, today’s India is cultivating secrecy. Paradoxically, this culture of secrecy is sometimes justified in the name of transparency. In this article, we shall talk about some recent instances to highlight that the Centre is hiding true information from people.
Centre fails to provide true data about major issues: Here are 10 instances
1. PM Modi denies RTI plea on PM CARE fund
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office has denied to give information related to the PM CARES Fund – set up in March in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic – to a Right to Information activist, saying it would “disproportionately divert the resources”, The Hindu reported. This happened despite a Kerala High Court judgment and multiple orders of the Central Information Commission that the rationale stated by the prime minister’s office can be only used when asked to change the format of information provided and not to deny it fully. PM Cares – an acronym for Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations – was set up in March with the stated objective of being a “dedicated national fund” to deal with “any kind of emergency or distress situation”.
The Opposition has questioned the need to create the reserve when Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is already in existence. They have also expressed doubts about the fund’s transparency. RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) filed an application, seeking details about the number of requests and appeals received and disposed of by Modi’s office each month since April this year, as well as the information related to PM CARES and the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. On August 14, the prime minister’s office responded with the overall data, but refused to divulge information specific to the two funds.
— NDTV (@ndtv) September 21, 2020
2. Centre said it has no data on health workers
Data on the number of healthcare workers who are infected by the coronavirus infection or have lost their lives during Covid-19 duty is not maintained at the central level by the health ministry, the Centre told Parliament. The Centre said no specific scheme in context of Covid-19 has been proposed for compensation or job to the family member of the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who died during Covid-19 duty.
To a question on the number of doctors, paramedics and other official staff serving in government and private hospitals who were affected and died during Covid-19 duty, the government said, “Data on number of healthcare workers who are infected by Covid-19 or number of such persons who have lost lives during Covid duty is not maintained at central level by Ministry of Health”. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, no data means no justice for the uncounted dead, nor to their families. Upset with the Centre, with the government, the Indian Medical Association even listed the 382 doctors who had died of coronavirus, adding that youngest doctor to lose his life was 24 years old and the oldest was aged 86.
3. No data on police harrasment during lockdown
The Union Home Ministry on Wednesday informed Rajya Sabha that since police and public order are State subjects, the Centre has no records of complaints, FIRs, regarding harassment/injury or death of individuals by police measures while enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown in the country. It also added that the data pertaining to complaints and cases/FIR registered regarding such incidents are ‘not maintained centrally’.
4. No data on migrant workers, their death
While presenting the Union Budget 2020 in Parliament on February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman outlined the importance of data and said that in order to meet challenges of real-time monitoring of India’s increasingly complex economy, “data must have strong credibility”. She said the significance of data today is such that the phrase “data is the new oil” has become a cliché. However, just seven months after outlining the significance of “credible data”, the Narendra Modi government on September 14 informed Parliament that it has not maintained any data on the number of migrant workers who died while trying to reach their homes after the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus was announced.
“Transparency should start from home.” This was Nirmala Sitharaman’s strongly worded defence when opposition members criticised the PM CARES fund. pic.twitter.com/TcQukHpG7V
— Brut India (@BrutIndia) September 23, 2020
The Union Ministry for Labour and Employment in a written reply said, “No such data is maintained”, and that the answer to the question on compensation “does not arise” since there is no data. However, such data has already been compiled by the media houses and independent researchers. We wonder how can a government miss the same data then. Does it mean the Centre didn’t want to keep such data in first place?
5. Centre hasn’t yet said where it spent GST cess money
In its audit report on the accounts of the Union government, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has pointed out grave lapses in the accounting of revenue from the GST compensation cess. According to the CAG, the central government, in violation of the GST Compensation Cess Act, 2017, short-credited the GST compensation cess fund to the tune of Rs 47,272 crore during 2017-18 and 2018-19, retaining the amount in the consolidated fund of India. By doing so, the funds collected through the compensation cess route could be used for purposes other than those provided in the Act. This accounting sleight of hand led to an overestimation of the Centre’s revenue, and as a consequence, an underestimation of its fiscal deficit.
6. Centre says it has no data on plasma banks
In response to a question on the total number of plasma banks running at present to provide plasma therapy to COVID-19 patients in the country and if the government proposes to set up more plasma banks to cope with disease in the country, Minister of State for Health Ashwini Choubey said states had taken initiative to establish such banks but no central database of such banks is maintained. Convalescent plasma therapy has not been recommended by the Ministry of Health as a mainstay of COVID-19 therapy and there is no proposal under consideration to set up plasma banks, the Rajya Sabha was informed.
7. No data on political prisoners as well
Government did not have data to provide on number of political prisoners under trial in response to CPI Rajya Sabha MP Binoy Visvam’s question. “This information is not maintained by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which compiles prison statistics reported to it by States and Union Territories, and publishes it in its annual report ‘Prison Statistics India’,” it said. As a result, the question of how many political prisoners are currently in jail in response “does no arise”.
8. Death of safai workers, police during Covid: Centre has no data
The home ministry told Parliament the Centre did not maintain data of police personnel who had died of COVID-19. LiveLawpointed out that the non-maintenance of such data indicated the families of such personnel had not received any compensation from the Central government. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment told the Rajya Sabha it had no data on Safai Karamcharis who had died due to health and safety hazards related to cleaning hospitals and medial waste during the pandemic.
9. Information about unorganised sector? No data with Centre
The government said “no such proposal is under consideration” in response to question on whether it was collecting or collating data on the number of workers of the unorganised sector, contract workers and labourers in the country. Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan said the 23.9% fall in India’s economic growth in the first quarter of FY20-21 was “alarming” and that the numbers will probably be worse when “we get estimates of the damage in the informal sector”.
10. Murder of RTI activists: Centre has no information
In response to an unstarred question K. Shamugasundaram of the DMK, the government said it had no data on RTI activists murdered in the country and the implementation of the Whistleblower protection scheme by various states.
This list can be even longer with covering issues like why the Centre says it has no data about India’s stand on world corruption, why doesn’t it provide clear information about electoral funds and starting sealed envelope culture in courts across the country. But maybe these shall be covered in another article.
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