Railway Ministry officials seem to think that providing information related to retirement norms for sniffer dogs working with the railway police or availability of kennels for the canines would be detrimental to security, sovereignty and integrity of the nation.
In a response to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by The Indian Express, a Central Public Information Officer with the Railway Board has said that the information sought cannot be provided as an exemption under section 8 (a1) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Under section 8 (a1) of the Act, information can be denied is the “disclosure would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the State, and relations with a foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence”.
The questions to which answers were not provided included: number of sniffer dogs or dog squads at each division of Indial Railways, availability of dog-houses and trained dog handlers, criteria for retiring a dog from service, medical expenses incurred on dogs, how the dogs were ‘pensioned’ off after their service, and the number of dogs that died in harness. Railway officials declined to answer any of these questions.
Various divisions of Indian Railways have in the past announced availability of dogs with the RPF and fresh recruitment. Different divisions of railways, through press releases, voluntarily made information public, about shortage of kennels at stations in Mumbai and the plans to construct new ones.
Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, said such responses from PIOs show disregard for RTI and are illegal. “I don’t see how information about number of dog squads and living and working conditions of dogs cane be exempt under section 8 (a1). The reason provided is clearly invalid. Having said that, there can be a difference of opinion. However, if a Public Information Officer is declined to provide some information by citing, say, security reasons, he should explain as to how exactly the information will affect security. Merely spelling out the section is insufficient,” said Gandhi.