Access to information policy
‘FREEDOM of information is a fundamental human right, the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the UN is consecrated.’ (Resolution 59(1) of the UNGA).
The main theme behind the concept of freedom of information is that public institutions have an obligation to disclose information and every member of the public has a corresponding right to receive information. This right is unlimited unless there are legitimate privacy or security concerns. Where a public authority seeks to deny access to information, it must show that the information it wishes to withhold comes within the scope of these concerns.
The Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan and under the ‘Freedom of Information’ of federal and provincial laws, every citizen has the right to access information about the performance of public institutions and other official deeds. For this purpose, the Punjab police introduced a policy in 2007. The policy deal with both substantive and procedural issues.
Although, the Punjab police issued this policy, yet they have not taken any solid steps to enforce it. That’s why, after passing nearly six years the policy has not been fully implemented in any of police stations in Bahawalpur district.
The following facts have been revealed through ‘Governance Monitoring Reports’, produced by Awaz Centre for Development Services, about 20 police stations monitored during April 2011-June 2012 in Bahawalpur district: 75 pc of police stations have no designated Information Access Officer; 70 pc police stations are not maintaining a separate register to record requests seeking information; 75 pc police stations had received no information requests during the visited month and 70 pc police stations do not provide ‘copies of challans’ to the public.
Recently, due to advocacy campaign by the district governance group, the district police officer, Bahawalpur, issued a notification on July 12 last to all SHOs and Moharrars in which they were directed to designate an officer with regard to access to information at each police station, and maintain a separate register to record requests seeking information.
We think, it would be better if the district police officer should also provide training opportunity for the officers concerned in this regard.
The members of district governance group have welcomed this notification saying that it would not only help in developing healthy relations between citizens and the police department but a number of human rights violation could also be stopped such as detaining common people without any charges, torturing inmates, serving poor quality food to inmates, not providing safe drinking water, and keeping the lockup unhygienic.
Let us hope the police officers will fulfil their obligations towards inmates and citizens.
S.M. ALI Advocacy officer, AWAZ Foundation Pakistan