MiD-Day's Akela was arrested under the Official Secrets Act over exposé on poor storage there

While MiD-Day journalist Tarakant Dwivedi alias Akela was arrested and jailed last month under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), 1923, for doing a story on the poor storage of sophisticated weaponry at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), a Right to Information (RTI) query has revealed that the Railway Protection Force (RPF) armoury at the CST was not a prohibited area and there were no signboards there to that effect.

On May 17, Akela was arrested under the OSA by the Government Railway Police (GRP) for an article written on June 28, 2010 in Mumbai Mirror titled “Leaks in armoury put new anti-terror arms under threat,” which exposed the poor condition in which hi-tech weapons procured after the 26/11 attack were being kept by the Railway security force.

The RTI query was filed on June 7, 2011 by Sunil Reddy, general secretary, All-India RPF Association, Central Railway, demanding to know if the cash office and the armoury on the ground floor of the General Manager's office, Central Railway, at CST was notified in the Gazette of the Government of India as being a prohibited area. Mr. Reddy also wanted to know if there was a placard or signboard notifying the area prohibited.

Akela was arrested after the Railway police and a private complainant, Pradeep Sonthalia, insisted that the armoury was a prohibited area and that action be taken for trespassing it. In a reply to the RTI query, a copy of which is with The Hindu, on June 16, 2011, the custodian of the Central Railway building of the CST has said that there is no record available with him notifying the area as prohibited.

MiD-Day is now planning to approach the High Court and demand the quashing of the complaint against its staff-members. A complaint of criminal trespass against Akela, MiD-Day photographer, Raju Shinde and Mr. Reddy under the Official Secrets Act was filed by Pradeep Sonthalia in the 35th Metro Magistrate Railway Court at CST, Mumbai, with a prayer to pass the order, as the GRP was not entertaining his earlier complaint.

Metropolitan magistrate N.P Mehta, in an order dated October 14, 2010, said, prima facie, it appeared that an offence under Section 447 of the Indian Penal Code relating to criminal trespass was committed, and directed the officer-in-charge of the CST railway police station to conduct an investigation. The order said that as far as the offence under the OSA was concerned, this court was not empowered to order investigation of the offence as the complaint was not lodged by the government or other appropriate authority as provided for under Section 13 (3) of the OSA.

On March 14, Pandharinath Yeram, Railway police inspector, CST, filed an application to the Metropolitan Magistrate, requesting permission to register the case under Sections 3 (1) (a) and 7 of the OSA, as he had received a request letter on December 2, 2010, from Yogendra Pal, RPF Inspector, Cash Guard, CST, Mumbai, to proceed under the OSA. Assistant Security Commissioner Chandra Shekhar Singh too gave a statement that the RPF armoury came under the definition in Section 2 (8) (a) of the OSA as “prohibited area”.

Section 3 of the OSA refers to penalties for spying; Section 3(1) mentions: “If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State (a) approaches, inspects, passes over, or is in the vicinity of, or enters, any prohibited place.” Section 7 refers to “Interfering with officers of the police or members of the Armed forces of the Union.”

This led to Akela's arrest on May 17. The next day, the Metropolitan Magistrate rejected his bail application and remanded him to three days police custody. Journalists had protested the arrest and the application of the OSA and demanded the suspension of the two officers who allegedly threatened Akela — Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Bapu Thombre of the GRP and ACP Anil Mahabole threatened Akela in prison, the journalists alleged. Mr. Mahabole was questioned by the police in connection with the killing of Akela's colleague Jyotirmoy Dey, who was shot dead last Saturday.