NIC shoots down RTI on Nehru Wikipedia page edits: Is govt confirming transparency complaints of activists?

New Delhi: When asked for it, the National Informatics Centre (NIC) refused to divulge details about the person or people who changed the content of the Wikipedia page on former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. NIC, the government's software solution provider, cited 'security' concerns while refusing to give out the name of the person, from whose computer the Wikipedia page was changed.

In their response to the RTI application seeking details of the IP address, NIC said that the details can't be furnished as it may have 'security implications'. Incidentally, telecom minister Ravishankar Prasad had announced that the government has begun a probe into the incident.

However, the RTI response does not cite any exemption clauses given in the transparency law, which is mandatory while withholding the information sought under the RTI Act. There are 10 subsections of Section eight of the Right to Information Act for withholding information that is mandatory under the Act.

Instead, the NIC said that their decision was based on the input received from the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT)-IN.

The Wikipedia page on Jawaharlal Nehru. Screengrab.

The Wikipedia page on Jawaharlal Nehru. Screengrab.

"Based on the input from CERT.IN, it is seen that there may be security implications in sharing the information. Thus the same may not be shared," the response from CPIO of National Informatics Centre, Swarup Dutta said.

The Indian Express reports, "The NIC was also asked to provide the names of the officers who used the IP address at the time of content of Wikipedia being edited. The applicant had also sought to know if any inquiry was initiated in the matter."

An article on The Wire notes that the alterations made to Jawaharlal Nehru's include several slanderous 'information' about him. The article notes how the following passage was entered in the page on Nehru:

"In fact both Nehru and Jinnah were paramours of Edwina Mountbatten, who blackmailed them with their sexually explicit nude photos with her in the bed and made them sign the partition papers. Edwina never slept in bed with her husband Lord Mountbatten, who was a gay, anyway. She was married to him only to gain access to the powers that be and armtwist the the two leaders to agree to partition."

Other edits made to the same page from the IP address traced back to the Central government office in Delhi included comments on Nehru's father. The Wire says, "The addition of the following line (on June 26, 2015)  to the biography of Gangadhar Nehru, grandfather of Jawaharlal: “Gangadhar was born as a Muslim by the name of Ghiasuddin Ghazi but changed his name to a Hindu Ganga Dhar to escape from British clutches.”

The Narendra Modi government, after it came to power, sought to make the RTI process easier and more transparent. A few months after Modi took over the government, an announcement was made about making the process of seeking and getting information under the RTI easier and digital. The Economic Times had reported in October 2014:

"The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on Tuesday issued an official memorandum to all central ministries and departments directing them to take "immediate action" to ensure that "the facility to upload the reply to RTI application and first appeal on the website of the respective ministry or department" may be started from October 31. Replies to queries will be put up on ministries' website and be available for all to view and not just the person behind the query."

The Finance Ministry website, since then, seems to have been the most pro-active in posting replies to RTI queries. While some 10 replies had been posted online in 2014 by the Department of Economic Affairs, the links to RTI queries to other departments like Financial Services were not working properly when this copy was being written.

The website of the Ministry of Women and Child Development has a section called 'Right to Information', but it has details of various orders and circulars issued by the ministry. We couldn't find replies to RTI queries posted in the section, like you can see in the Finance Ministry website. The Home Ministry website has a dedicated RTI section too with a new facility to search the status of a query posted to the ministry. While the section has a lot of information about CPIOs etc, replies to RTI queries couldn't be found displayed prominently on the site.

Despite the Modi government's promises regarding the RTI issue, many RTI activists seem to be unhappy with the government's commitment to the cause. In March, Scroll had spoken to several activists who had complained that the government has left the RTI department to die a slow death. One activist said there were 39,000 pending cases with the CIC, up from 24,150 on October 31 last year, the report said. After remaining without  a Chief Information Officer for over 7 months, Vijai Sharma was appointed the CIC in June.

In May, RTI activist Subhas Chandra Agrawal told The Wire, "The replies you get nowadays are vague and the information which used to be provided easily earlier is now being denied."

He also said that given there was no background it was difficult for the recipient to comprehend what the information meant.

The NIC's refusal to reveal who was working on the computer that was used to change the Wikipedia entry will only reaffirm the fears that the government is turning opaque for civilians and will not dispense any information sought by them.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Aug 10, 2015 17:19:12 IST

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