RTI reveals that ten founding members of the controversial Lokniti Foundation are civil servants

08 May 2018
New evidence, obtained through a Right to Information request, reveals that ten of 17 founding members of the Lokniti Foundation are civil servants.
New evidence, obtained through a Right to Information request, reveals that ten of 17 founding members of the Lokniti Foundation are civil servants.

During the ongoing Supreme Court hearings challenging the Aadhaar programme, the central government has shifted positions on the issue of making Aadhaar mandatory for mobile connections. In late April, HuffPost India published a story about the Lokniti Foundation, a “secretive organisation” that had filed a petition seeking “100% verification of the mobile phone subscribers.” The story noted that Lokniti had filed multiple public interest litigations in the Supreme Court to elicit governmental reforms. New evidence, obtained through a Right to Information request, reveals that ten of Lokniti’s 17 founding members are civil servants. The discovery raises important questions about the organisation’s relationship with the government, and the circumstances surrounding its petition.

The Lokniti Foundation filed the PIL in 2016, citing grievances with telecom companies’ customer-verification processes and claiming that making Aadhaar mandatory for mobile SIMs would be a boon for national security. In February 2017, the Supreme Court issued an order disposing of the petition without issuing any explicit directions, but “complimenting the petitioner” for filing it. The following month, the government cited this order and issued a circular that directed cellular providers to “re-verify all existing mobile subscribers … through Aadhaar based E-KYC process.” But in April this year, the Supreme Court bench hearing the Aadhaar cases told the counsels representing the central government, “In fact there was no direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as a tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users.” In a subsequent hearing, the attorney general, KK Venugopal, argued that the circular was nonetheless based on the February 2017 order, in which the court had expressed its “hope and expectation” that the verification would be completed within a year.

The RTI response provides the names and occupations of the 17 individuals who requested to form the Lokniti Foundation when it was registered by Delhi’s registrar of societies in 2008. The HuffPost report quotes Sharad Goel—the secretary of the Lokniti Foundation—who said the organisation was “the brainchild of Shatrujeet Singh Kapoor,” a senior IPS officer serving in Haryana. It further noted concerns expressed by retired members of the Indian Administrative Service, who questioned the propriety of civil servants approaching the Supreme Court through PILs while they are still working in the government.

In addition to Shatrujeet Kapoor (spelled “Kapur” in the RTI response), the response lists nine other members with the occupation of “public servant.” The names listed in the RTI response corresponded with the names of several civil servants whose details I was able to find online. These include RP Upadhyay, the Delhi Police’s special commissioner of police (crime); Mahendra Ranga, a commissioner with the goods and service tax intelligence in Delhi; Ishwar Singh, an inspector general with the Punjab Police; Rajvir Singh, a director general with the Comptroller and Auditor General of India; Yogpal Singh, an Indian Revenue Service officer currently serving with the Enforcement Directorate; and more.

One of the members of the Lokniti Foundation explained, on the condition of anonymity, how the foundation came to be formed: “Actually, we all trained together”—as civil servants. “We are the same batch; all are friends. So we decided to get this NGO registered and take up causes which are important from a national-security point of view, or public-service point of view.” The identification of these ten founding members and their governmental affiliations significantly expand the scope of what we know about the Lokniti Foundation and its potential areas of influence.

Aria Thaker is a journalist who reports on the intersection of technology and politics for Quartz India. She was formerly a copy editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: civil servant Aadhaar PIL Supreme Court