The Central Information Commission (CIC) has told an RTI (Right to Information) applicant that information about People’s Liberation Army (PLA) casualties in clashes with Indian forces in Ladakh’s Galwan valley in 2020 cannot be disclosed. RTI applicant Akhand wanted to know ‘the casualties to the Chinese forces, if any, by brave soldiers of the country’ and ‘if Indian soldiers are missing in the Galwan river valley after the clash and its plans to rescue them’. He also wanted to know about casualties suffered by Indian forces in the Galwan River Valley, Ladakh, near the Line of Actual Control, and rehabilitation and ex-gratia paid to the families.
Third-party data cannot be shared;
In response, the CIC, the highest appellate body under the Right to Information Act (RTI), stated that the information was proprietary and could not be shared. The army refused to release the information, claiming that it was third-party information that could not be shared under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act, which exempts personal information from disclosure.
To deny the information, the army cited Section 8(1)(a) of the Act, which exempts from disclosure information that would jeopardise India’s sovereignty and integrity, its security, strategic, scientific, or economic interests, relations with foreign states, or lead to the incitement of an offence.
Heightened public interest;
The representative of Akhand argued before the CIC that the matter is of greater public interest and that the information should be provided to him. ‘It is noted that a proper reply was given to the appellant whereby it was rightly stated that since the information is related to third parties, the information cannot be provided under section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. It was also stated that the information is sensitive in nature and cannot be provided under section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. The Commission is unable to find any flaw in the reply. Hence, no relief can be given’.
Conflict in Galwan Valley;
The Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh saw the most violent clashes between Indian and Chinese militaries in nearly four decades in June 2020. On the Indian side, the standoff and hand-to-hand combat killed 20 people, including Colonel Santosh Babu, commanding officer of the 16 Bihar regiment. China has still not disclosed the losses it sustained in Galwan, despite the passage of two years. The death of five PLA soldiers has been officially acknowledged by Beijing, but the Indian side claims it is much higher.