RTI Judgement Series
RTI Judgement Series: When the Western Ghats ecology status report was made public

Disclosure of the WGEEP report would enable citizens to debate in an informed manner and provide useful feedback to government. The law requires suo moto disclosure by the public authority while formulating important policies and not after formulating them, ruled the CIC. This is the 25th in a series of important judgements given by Shailesh Gandhi, former CIC, that can be used or quoted in an RTI application


The Central Information Commission (CIC), while rejecting the contention of the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), ordered that all reports of panels, experts, committees and commissions set up by government with public funds must be displayed suo moto as per the mandate of Section 4 (1) (c) & (d) read with 4 (2) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. While giving this important judgement, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, said, “The Commission does not find any merit in his (PIO's) contention that disclosure (of the report) would impact the economic interests of the nation.”

 

“The Commission directs that the ministry of environment and forests should publish all reports of commissions, special committees or panels within 30 days of receiving them, unless it feels that any part of such report is exempt under the provisions of Section 8 (1) or 9 of the RTI Act. If it concludes that any part is exempt, the reasons for claiming exemptions should be recorded and the report displayed on the website within 45 days of receipt, after severing the parts claimed to be exempt. There should be a declaration on the website about the parts that have been severed, and the reasons for claiming exemptions as per the provisions of the RTI Act,” the CIC said in its order issued on 9 April 2012.

 

Kerala-based G Krishnan, on 22 November 2011, sought information about the Madhav Gadgil panel report. He sought following information...

 

Summary of the report submitted to the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) under the chairmanship of Prof Madhav Gadgil and the report on the Athirappilly HEP, Kerala.

 

The PIO, while denying the information, stated that “(the) MoEF is still in the process of examining the report of WGEEP in consultation with six state governments of the Western Ghats region. The report is not final and a draft under consideration of MoEF and thus not complete/ready for disclosure under the RTI Act. The appellant was requested to file his RTI application again at a later date after completion of the process.”

 

Not satisfied with the reply, G Krishnan then filed application with the First Appellate Authority (FAA). The FAA mentioned that the information sought may not be disclosed under Section 8 of the RTI Act.

 

G Krishnan then filed a second appeal before the Commission. During the hearing on 23 March 2012, the Commission noted that the PIO did not give any reasons for denying the information; however, he mentioned that the FAA has held that the information may not be disclosed under Section 8 of the RTI Act.

 

The PIO accepted that the sovereignty and integrity, security or strategic interests of the State would not be affected. He argued that “scientific or economic interests of the State” would be prejudicially affected on disclosure of the information at this stage. The PIO further stated that views from 11 ministries, the Planning Commission and six states were sought. Therefore, disclosure of information at this stage would lead to various proposals as per the recommendations of the report which had not been finally accepted.

 

The Commission then reserved its order.

 

In an order issued on 9 April 2012, Mr Gandhi noted that the PIO denied the information contending that the report was being finalised and hence not ready to be furnished under the RTI Act. “It must be noted that since the report has already been submitted by the panel to MoEF, it cannot be called a ‘draft’ report. Moreover, there is no provision in the RTI Act which exempts from disclosure a report that has not been finalised or accepted by a public authority,” the Commission noted.

 

During the first hearing on 23rd March, the PIO claimed that the information was protected from disclosure under Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act, which exempts ‘information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence’.

 

The WGEEP was set up in 2010 by the MoEF under the chairmanship of Prof Madhav Gadgil. It was designated certain functions which included an assessment of the ecological status of the Western Ghats region, demarcation of areas within the said region required to be notified as ecologically sensitive, and recommendations for conservation, protection and rejuvenation of the Western Ghats region. The panel was also given the task of examining the Athirappilly hydroelectric project (HEP).

 

On receipt of the report, the MOEF recognised that the recommendations contained therein had far-reaching consequences on conservation and development of the Western Ghats region, and centre-state relations. Therefore, wide ranging consultations from the concerned states and central ministries were instituted.

 

Mr Gandhi said that the RTI Act recognises that a democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information, and there is a need for transparency of information to contain corruption and to hold the government and its intermediaries accountable to the citizens.

 

Section 3 of the RTI Act lays down that all citizens can exercise their fundamental right to information from all public authorities, without having to give any purpose or reasons. A PIO must provide the information within 30 days unless it falls under the ten exemptions of Section 8 (1) or Section 9.

 

“...a claim that a final decision has not been taken, hence information will not be provided, is not a tenable reason for refusal. Thus, all denial of information would have to be justified by the provisions of the RTI Act,” the Commission said.

 

Even if the information is exempted, it would have to be provided, if a larger public interest can be proved in disclosure as per the provision of Section 8 (2). After 20 years have elapsed, only three of the exemptions of Section 8 (1) would apply. Thus, Parliament clearly intended that most of the information should be available to the citizens and denial of information should be the exception and disclosure the rule. Section 4 of the Act was a statutory direction to all public authorities “to provide as much information suo moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information”, Mr Gandhi noted in his order.

 

The Western Ghats have been internationally accepted as a region of topographical and ecological significance. It is recognised as a biodiversity hotspot on account of a substantial number of species facing the threat of extinction. From the broad mandate of the WGEEP, it is clear that its report would have extensive ramifications on the biodiversity of an ecologically-sensitive region as the Western Ghats. Moreover, as submitted by the PIO, the areas covered by WGEEP in its report and the recommendations given therein would influence many important sectors such as agriculture, land use, mining, industry, tourism, water resources, power, roads and railways.

 

The PIO argued that premature release of the report (containing the methodology for demarcation) into the public domain without adequate consultations with the state governments/central ministries to refine the boundaries of eco-sensitive areas may lead to a situation wherein there would be an influx of proposals for declaration of eco-sensitive zones in the Western Ghats by individuals/ groups/ organisations. His contention was that this would impact economic progress and interests. The PIO did not, however, advance any argument to show how the scientific interests of the nation would be affected.

 

Mr Gandhi observed that, “Disclosing a report or information does not mean that the government has to follow it. It may perhaps have to explain the reasons to the public for disagreeing with a report based on logic and coherent reasons. This cannot be considered as prejudicially affecting the scientific and economic interests of the State.”

 

“Even if the government decides not to accept the findings or recommendations, their significance as an important input for policy making and taking decisions cannot be disregarded arbitrarily. If such reports are put in public domain, citizens' views and concerns can be articulated in a scientific and reasonable manner. If the government has reasons to ignore the reports, these should logically be put before people,” he said.

 

The RTI Act recognises the above mandate and in Section 4 contains a statutory direction to all public authorities “to provide as much information suo moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information”. More specifically, Section 4 (1) (c) of the RTI Act mandates that all public authorities shall “publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public”. It follows from the above that citizens have a right to know about the WGEEP report, which has been prepared with public money, and has wide ramifications on the environment. Disclosure of the WGEEP report would enable citizens to debate in an informed manner and provide useful feedback to the government, which may be taken into account before finalizing the same, the Commission noted.

 

The PIO has not been able to give any reason how the disclosure would affect the scientific interests of the State. The PIO’s claim for exemption is solely based on Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act. The Commission has examined this claim and does not find any merit in his contention that the disclosure would impact the economic interests of the Nation. The Commission, therefore, rejects the PIO’s contention that the information sought by the appellant is exempt under Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act, Mr Gandhi said.

 

While allowing the appeal, the Commission directed the PIO to an attested photocopy of the summary of the WGEEP report and the report on the Athirappilly HEP, Kerala to the appellant before 5 May 2012. Furthermore, it asked the PIO to ensure that the complete WGEEP report is placed on the ministry of environment and forest’s website before 10 May 2012.

 

The Commission directed the MoEF to publish all reports of commissions, special committees or panels within 30 days of receiving them, unless it feels that any part of such report is exempt under the provisions of Section 8(1) or 9 of the RTI Act. “If it (MoEF) concludes that any part is exempt, the reasons for claiming exemptions should be recorded and the report displayed on the website within 45 days of receipt, after severing the parts claimed to be exempt. There should be a declaration on the website about the parts that have been severed, and the reasons for claiming exemptions as per the provisions of the RTI Act. This direction is being given by the Commission under Section 19(1)(b)(iii) of the Act to the Secretary, MoEF,” the Commission said in its order.

 

 

CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION

 

Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2012/000374/18316

http://www.rti.india.gov.in/cic_decisions/CIC_SG_A_2012_000374_18316_M_79964.pdf

Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2012/000374

 

 

Appellant                                            : G Krishnan,

                                                            Kerala-683582

 

Respondent                                                 : Dr Amit Love,

                                                            CPIO & Deputy Director,

                                                            Ministry of Environment and Forests,

                                                            Room No. 539, Paryavaran Bhavan,

                                                            CGO Complex, Lodhi Road

                                                            New Delhi-110003

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BSE Sensex, Nifty trying to fight to back: Wednesday Closing Report

The Nifty came back from under 6,030 but the trend is still down


The market managed to settle in the positive on the back of smart bounce back in late trade on hopes that the Reserve Bank of India will cut interest rates in its policy meeting next week. The market is trying to its best to retain the uptrend. Today the Nifty came back from under 6,030 but the trend is still down.

 

The domestic market opened marginally higher supported by finance minister P Chidambaram’s assurance to global fund managers in Hong Kong on Tuesday that the Indian government is hopeful of containing the fiscal deficit within the targeted 5.3% of the GDP this fiscal and trimmed to 4.8% in the next. On the global front, markets in Asia were mixed in morning trade as the Bank of Japan on Tuesday decided to delay fresh policy measures till next year.

 

The Nifty opened four points up at 6,053 and the Sensex rose by 15 points to 19,997. Buying in realty, technology, metal and capital goods stocks lifted the market higher in early trade.

 

A minor bout of profit taking at the highs saw the benchmarks paring part of its early gains and moving sideways in the morning session.  However, selling pressure in PSU, auto and realty sectors pushed the market into the red in noon trade. A flat opening of the European markets also weighed on investor sentiment back home.

 

The benchmarks dropped to their lows around 2.30pm wherein the Nifty touched 6,021 and the Sensex went back to 19,921.

 

A splendid bounce back in the late session helped the market emerge into the green. The gains saw the indices hitting their intraday highs in late trade. The Nifty touched 6,070 and the Sensex went up to 20,058 at their highs.

 

The market closed near the day’s high amid range-bound trade. The Nifty added six points (0.10%) to 6,054 and the Sensex ended at 20,027, up 45 points (0.23%) over its previous close.

 

The broader indices were punished in today’s trading session as the BSE Mid-cap index dropped 0.91% and the BSE Small-cap index declined 0.90%.

 

BSE TECk (up 0.64%); BSE Bankex (up 0.43%) and BSE Capital Goods (up 0.10%) settled higher while all other sectoral gauges ended in the negative. The top losers were BSE Realty (down 2.34%); BSE PSU (down 1%); BSE Consumer Durables (down 0.94%); BSE Auto (down 0.83%) and BSE Metal (down 0.54%).

 

Sixteen of the 30 stocks on the Sensex closed in the positive. The chief gainers were Bharti Airtel (up 4.44%); Tata Power (up 2.38%); ITC (up 1.37%); Hero MotoCorp (up 1.02%) and HDFC (up 0.92%). The main lowers were Hindustan Unilever (down 4.43%); Tata Motors (down 1.98%); Hindalco Industries (down 1.54%); GAIL India (down 1.32%) and Bajaj Auto (down 1.24%).

 

The top two A Group gainers on the BSE were—Zee Entertainment (up 5.41%) and Bharti Airtel (up 4.44%).

The top two A Group losers on the BSE were—HDIL (down 14.33%) and Jaypee Infratech (down 8.65%).

 

The top two B Group gainers on the BSE were—Ajanta Pharma (up 19.99%) and TPL Plastech (up 13.97%).

The top two B Group losers on the BSE were—Everlon Synthetics (down 15.67%) and Maharashtra Polybutanes (down 14.30%).

 

Out of the 50 stocks listed on the Nifty, 23stocks settled in the positive. The major gainers were Bharti Airtel (up 4.55%); Tata Power (up 2.51%); ICICI Bank (up 1.80%); ITC (up 1.11%) and Hero MotoCorp (up 0.99%). The main losers were HUL (down 4.12%); HCL Technologies (down 3.09%); Jaiprakash Associates (down 2.39%); BPCL (down 2.24%) and IDFC (down 2.01%).

 

Markets in Asia closed mixed on expectations of positive corporate earning reports. However, the Bank of Japan’s decision to defer its stimulus plan led that market lower for the third day in a row.

 

The Shanghai Composite rose 0.25%; the Jakarta Composite added 0.05%; the KLSE Composite gained 0.40% and the Straits Times advanced 0.35%. On the other hand, the Hang Seng lost 0.10%; the Nikkei 225 tumbled 2.08%; the Seoul Composite declined 0.81% and the Taiwan Weighted fell 0.19%.

 

At the time of writing, the European indices were mostly higher and the US stock futures were mixed with a negative bias.

 

Back home, foreign institutional investors were net buyers of shares amounting to Rs1,046.40 crore on Tuesday whereas domestic institutional investors were net sellers of equities totalling Rs855.35 crore.

 

Exide Industries plans to acquire the remaining 50% of ING Vysya Life Insurance Company for an aggregate consideration of Rs550 crore. Exide currently holds 50% stake in the life insurance company.  Post such acquisition EIL has in principle decided to identify and induct a new international player in the life insurance business to infuse fresh equity into IVL (subject to regulatory approvals). The stock declined 0.56% to close at Rs125.40 on the NSE.

 

Greenply Industries’ board on Wednesday approved the establishment of a veneer or veneer-cum-plywood unit in Myanmar through a subsidiary in Kolkata. It will approach the concerned authority in Myanmar for necessary approval, the company said in a filing with the stock exchanges today. The stock gained 2.20% to close at Rs438.90 on the NSE.

 

Three forfeited coal blocks of NTPC have been given back to the country’s largest power producer after getting approval from the law ministry, a development that will boost the company's valuation prior to its share-sale. The three coal blocks—Chatti-Bariatu, Kerandari and Chatti-Bariatu (South), all in Jharkhand—were forfeited from the state-run company in 2011 as it failed to develop them within the stipulated time-frame. NTPC declined 0.70% to close at Rs163.20 on the NSE.

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Justice Verma panel gets 80,000 suggestions

Justice JS Verma said the failure of governance was the root cause of crime against women. He also said it was “equally shocking” that there was total apathy of everyone who had a duty to perform

 

New Delhi: The Justice JS Verma Committee, set up to recommend measures to improve laws dealing with sexual offences, has received around 80,000 suggestions and wrapped up its work within 29 days, reports PTI.

 

Verma, the head of the three-member panel, was approached by the central government for the task on 23rd December. The other members of the panel were former Himachal Pradesh Chief Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam.

 

He said the failure of governance was the root cause of crime against women. He also said it was “equally shocking” that there was total apathy of everyone who had a duty to perform.

 

“We have submitted the report in 29 days. When I offered to do the work within 30 days, I did not realise the magnitude of the work,” Verma told a press conference after submitting his voluminous report to the home ministry.

 

He said the report may be known after him but it is the outcome of suggestions from people within India and outside the country.

 

“We received 80,000 suggestions,” he said adding all of them were read and considered before finalising the report.

 

On how he decided on a time-frame for finalising the report, Verma said when a senior Cabinet minister approached him on behalf of prime minister Manmohan Singh he asked him when is the next session of Parliament.

 

“The minister told me that the (Budget) session will start on 21st February. There were two months. So I decided let’s do it in 30 days. If we are able to do it in half the time available, then the government with its might and resources should also act fast,” he said.

 

He complimented the youth for the mature response.

 

“Youth has taught us what we, the older generation, were not aware of. I was struck by the peaceful manner in which the protests were carried out... the youth rose to the occasion,” he said.

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