Mumbai: IndiaSpend looked at 35 parliamentary questions on health, education, labour, environment, agriculture, finance, gender and law and justice, between 2015 and 2023, for which the government responded that they had no data. The most common reason, in 17 of the 35 questions, for not providing data was “no such data is maintained”, we found.

Of the questions we analysed, there were 20 from the Lok Sabha and 15 from the Rajya Sabha. In four instances–student suicides, plasma banks, deaths of police personnel and deaths of Right To Information (RTI) activits–the response said that data is not held centrally, implying it might reside with individual states.

“What's concerning is the government's frequent dismissal of crucial information and data requests on the grounds that relevant data is not maintained. We've also observed instances where certain data sets, like the household consumption expenditure survey, were suppressed,” says Anjali Bhardwaj, a co-convenor of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information.

“In essence, this implies that citizens' right to information becomes meaningless. Without data, there's no accountability, rendering citizens unable to hold the government accountable. It's crucial for governments to collect and maintain data as it's the foundation for crafting effective policies, schemes, and laws in the public interest. Without access to this data, citizens are deprived of their right to information and cannot hold the government accountable for its actions or lack thereof. Therefore, the failure to maintain data is a significant concern in any country” says Bhardwaj.

This Lok Sabha, with sessions from June 2019 to February 2024 also marked a historic low in productivity, recording the fewest number of working days since 1952 as per this PRS legislative report.

As the current government’s tenure ends, here are 10 issues for which the government did not furnish data in the parliament during question hour.

1. Deaths of Migrants, doctors, frontline health workers and police deaths due to Covid-19:

In September 2020, a question was raised regarding the deaths of migrant workers who walked from major cities to their hometowns. The question sought state-wise data on migrant workers returning during the national lockdown, awareness of migrant workers' deaths during their return home, compensation/economic assistance provided to their families, and any assessment conducted on job losses among migrant workers due to the COVID-19 crisis. The government responded that it did not possess any data on these matters.

In September 2020, questions were raised in both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha regarding state/UT-wise counts of healthcare workers infected by Covid-19 and those who lost their lives during Covid-19 duty. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare clarified that such data is not centrally maintained, emphasising that health matters are under state jurisdiction, although a national-level database exists for individuals seeking relief under the "Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Insurance Package".

In September 2020, a question was posed regarding the number of police personnel who died due to Covid-19 across the country, state-wise. The government responded that such data is not centrally maintained for police personnel.

In September 2020, a question was raised in the Rajya Sabha, regarding the deaths of sanitation workers during Covid-19 in hospitals and dispensaries. The response said that this falls under the jurisdiction of states, and no data is maintained at the Union level.

2. Women exiting the workforce

In September 2020, in response to a question on women exciting the workforce due to Covid-19, the government answered that it had advised women to take Covid-19 precautions while pursuing professions, and promoted work-from-home and online activities, with anganwadi workers, Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs), and Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) continuing essential services during the pandemic. However, the Ministry of Women and Child Development said it does not maintain data on how many women exited the workforce post the Covid-19 lockdown.

3. Farmer deaths and arrests during protests

In November 2021, in the Lok Sabha, questions were posed regarding the number of cases registered against farmers in connection with the protests against three new farm laws, as well as the data on the number of farmers who died during these protests. The government responded that the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has no records on these matters, hence rendering the questions irrelevant. Similar responses were provided in the Rajya Sabha.

4. Deaths due to shortage of oxygen and hospital beds

In March 2022, in the Lok Sabha, a question was raised about whether the government has collected data on suspected deaths due to oxygen shortages reported by states and Union Territories. The government responded that it had asked the states for the data and that a few states/UTs had responded, but none reported any confirmed deaths due to oxygen shortages.

In September 2020, a question was raised in the Lok Sabha regarding the details of beds in government hospitals as of March 1, 2020, state/UT-wise. The government was also asked whether states/UTs struggled to provide beds, beds with oxygen, and ventilators to Covid-19 patients in the first few months of the pandemic, and if so, the availability of normal and oxygen beds and ventilators. The government responded that since public health and hospitals are state subjects, no such information is maintained centrally. However, the government did provide information regarding the three central government hospitals in Delhi, and that no shortage had been reported from these hospitals.

5. Deaths of Right to Information (RTI) Activists:

In December 2023, a question in the Lok Sabha focused on pending appeals under the RTI Act, state-wise, and specifically with the Central Information Commission, along with reasons for pendency and remedial actions. The government clarified that State Information Commissions maintain data on pending appeals. For the Central Information Commission, they said pendency has notably decreased due to increased disposal rates over the last nine years, without providing the numbers.

In December 2015, there was a Lok Sabha question on protecting whistleblowers and RTI activists, seeking information on attacks or killings of RTI activists, protective mechanisms, and fair trial measures. The government said that the Central Vigilance Commission, which is the designated agency, had not come across “any confirmed incident of victimisation or killing of the complainant during the last two years and the current year”. However, in two cases, a complainant had “alleged victimisation”.

Further, the response said. “There have been reports in the media that some persons have been assaulted and killed in the last three years allegedly due to their role as RTI activists. However, data regarding attack/ killing of Whistle Blowers/ RTI activists are not maintained centrally.”

6. Arrests of journalists

In July 2022, a question in the Lok Sabha queried the number of journalists arrested since 2019 and those currently facing prosecution. The government clarified that 'Police' and 'Public Order' are state subjects under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, and that the National Crime Records Bureau doesn't maintain specific data on journalist arrests.

7. Deaths of manual scavenging

In February 2019, a question was raised in the Lok Sabha about whether deaths due to manual scavenging continue to occur across the country. The government responded that there had been no reports of deaths caused by manual scavenging. However, they acknowledged that deaths while cleaning sewers and septic tanks are sometimes reported in newspapers. Such cases are addressed by the concerned state governments to ensure the payment of compensation of Rs 10 lakh.

The same question was asked again in the Lok Sabha in February 2022, inquiring whether the country is still unable to eradicate the mediaeval practice of manual scavenging, which forces workers to clean waste and faeces by hand. The government responded that there were no reports of people engaged in manual scavenging in the country.

8. Foreigner detention centres

In February 2022, a question about Foreigner Tribunals also asked about the number of detention centres in the country. The government informed the Rajya Sabha that state governments and UT administrations are responsible for setting up detention centres per the Model Detention Centre Manual 2019, with no central data maintained on these centres.

9. Love Jihad

In February 2020, a question was raised in Lok Sabha about the Kerala High Court's stance on ‘Love Jihad’ and any reported cases from Kerala in the past two years. Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri G. Kishan Reddy, stated that while Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees religious freedom, 'Love Jihad' is not legally defined, and no such cases have been reported by central agencies. The response said that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had investigated two inter-faith marriage cases from Kerala.

10. Mob lynching

In December 2022, a question was raised in the Rajya Sabha regarding measures against lynching, state-wise mob lynching cases, attacks on religious communities, and the possibility of a separate anti-lynching law as suggested by the Supreme Court. The government clarified that crime prevention and prosecution fall under state jurisdiction, with the Ministry of Home Affairs issuing advisories for law enforcement. They said the National Crime Records Bureau doesn't maintain separate data on mob lynching, providing only communal rioting data from 2017 to 2021. Additionally, the government said it aims to review criminal laws comprehensively for contemporary challenges, guided by parliamentary committee recommendations for legislative reforms.

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