Information relating to the execution of the death penalty in India is a state secret – this is the reply received by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) in response to an application filed under the Delhi Right to Information Act, 2001 to know details of persons who had been executed in Tihar Prisons in Delhi since 1947. In its reply dated 12 May 05, the DIG (Prisons) refused to provide the information on the grounds that, “some of the persons who have been executed had been convicted for various offences having prejudicial affect on the sovereignty and integrity of Indian and security of NCT of Delhi and international relations and could lead to incitement of an offence…”. The reply also claims that the information “would not serve any public interest”.
While information relating to the execution of death sentences in India has always been shrouded in secrecy, this is the first instance where a government authority has stated, in writing, that such information is effectively a state secret. It is mystifying why the Government is going as far as using defences of national sovereignty and international relations to deny information relating to judicial executions that have been carried out. The refusal and grounds for refusal provided of the Delhi authorities raise further concern especially given that the office of the Inspector General of Prisons, Pune had provided this information for Maharashtra State in another identical application filed by PUDR under the Maharashtra Right to Information Act earlier this year.
In April 2005, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights observed, “[i]n a considerable number of countries information concerning the death penalty is cloaked in secrecy … [s]uch secrecy is incompatible with human rights standards in various respects”. The reply of the authorities in Delhi completely ignores the UN Commission and human rights standards and places India in the dubious company of Vietnam, China and Uzbekistan where executions are state secrets, said the PUDR spokesperson.
PUDR has appealed against this refusal under the Delhi RTI Act and further calls upon the Government to end the silence and secrecy on the execution of death sentences and make public all information on people executed. PUDR opposes the imposition of the death penalty in all cases. It further believes that an informed public debate on the death penalty cannot take place in the absence of information on executions that the State is withholding.
Paramjeet Singh and Deepika Tandon