Lack of transparency was one of the main causes for all pervading corruption and Right to Information would lead to openness, accountability and integrity.
A basic principle of a healthy democracy is open dialogue and transparency.
Our researcher's request for information to Irrigation department of Uttar Pradesh to grant requisite information about the ongoing Gomti Riverfront project has been turned down with a denial to grant information.
In their response , Irrigation Department mentioned that the asked information is a part of commercial confidence, intellectual property or trade secrets (under Section 8(1)(D)) of RTI.
As a part of research by Ballotboxindia- A Group of scientists, researchers and civil society members who are rigorously working over environment protection issues. We have done substantial research over the ongoing Gomti riverfront project, we found several discrepancy and loop holes in the project. Blunders that can not only destroy the ecology of the river system, but will put lives and livelihood of millions dependent in danger.Watching and working on Gomti river systems for years, the recent announcements by Government agencies to build a riverfront over already dying river not just came as a shock, but has raised a tremendous concern about the future of the river.
The development not only points at a massive wastage of public money. The direction its going closes all the paths to river revival, while paving the path for a pattern and precedence- Which if continues in India we are looking at a major water catastrophe, very soon.
To closely monitor the development our researchers have been running pillar to post for any shred of scientific and official information on the subject, in the due course we filed right to information with the Lucknow Development Authority and Irrigation Department.
The RTI have been bouncing between offices since, including contacts to CM office, Resident Commissioner's office apart from above nodal departments in U.P.
Above is the researcher filed copy of the RTI dated 10-07-2016 that inquired about:
1. The Detailed Project Report (DPR)of the Gomti riverfront development project including the environment impact assessment report
2. Detailed site development plans/maps sanctioned across complete (planned) stretch of the river on both the sides
3. The total budget of the project and its breakup between public and private capital.
Three simple inquiries were turned down with a reply: ‘Inquired information cannot be given under RTI act 2005 section 8-1(D)’. Below is the copy of the reply received.
So after running pillar to post looking for information which can make any sense to this disastrous, wasteful, and non-nonsensical nature of this project, all we have got is a sad story of encroachment right over river bed, disdain and disrespect of any transparency law of the land.
RTI act 2005 and its importance:
Right to information act 2005 empowers citizens of India to seek information from the public authority (a body of government) which has to reply in the stipulated time.
Information is indispensable for the functioning of a true democracy. People have to be kept informed about current affairs and broad issues – political, social and economic. Free exchange of ideas and free debate are essentially desirable for the Government of a free country.
Right to know is also closely linked with other basic rights such as freedom of speech and expression and right to education. Its independent existence as an attribute of liberty cannot be disputed. Viewed from this angle, information or knowledge becomes an important resource. An equitable access to this resource must be guaranteed.
Former attorney general of India- Soli Sorabjee stressing on the need of Right to Information aim at bringing transparency in administration and public life, says,
"Lack of transparency was one of the main causes for all pervading corruption and Right to Information would lead to openness, accountability and integrity".
Right to information act 2005 is not absolute as no right can be absolute. It also has limitations. There have been a series of violations by pretty much every state and department. The law has a lot of loopholes in implementation as highlighted in this research.
These loopholes have been exploited by government agencies and some unscrupulous agents equally, which has left this law in a state of shambles and in a need of reforms. We are batting for a digital and singular RTI system in India to remove all these in-inefficiencies. Gomti Riverfront development is a model case on why we desperately need such a system.
With right to information which was created to know about the government developments, specially dealing with public purpose and resources. We don’t understand the apprehension of Irrigation department UP in dispensing the information. As other riverfront development Project Plan and environment impact assessment reports like that of Riverfront in Patna are available in public domain, then why Gomti riverfront project report and plans can't be made available, for a public scrutiny.
Let us learn a bit about RTI act 2005 Section 8-1 (d)
RTI act 2005 section 8-1(d): information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information
As clearly mentioned in the section 8-1(D) of the RTI Act 2005 that information can be disclosed in larger public interest, we believe this project is impacting the river ecology, which in turn is impacting everyone’s life living in the city. I believe there cannot be a larger public interest than this.
This massive project of Rs 3000 crores(News reports) is being raise from tax payers’ money. Hence, every tax payer has right to know the capital investment details.
This project encroaches upon the active flood plain and river bed of the river, as captured in the main video of the research. All this land is public or river's land.
So how and where does the issue of propriety and competitive position of the third party comes in picture. The project report done by Patna authority is pretty comprehensive with a detailed research. Don't the people of Uttar Pradesh have any such right on this information which is going to effect them in such a big way.
All the infra or development projects in India are now Public Private Partnership mode, there would always be private parties involved and we also don't want to encroach upon any IP related subject including that of Governments. But the response above is the danger Indian democracy faces right now, if this is the pattern, then essentially no information can be given to public, unless its already on Wikipedia. And if that's the case what is the point of fighting for the Right to Information for decades, and enacting the law which is in force since last 11 years.
If some information is confidential then they can dispense the inquiry partially. But the case of hiding proceedings has become a common habit in Uttar Pradesh. Recently, CAG audit for UP development authorities was denied by few districts.
In this time when elections are around the corner, the denial of CAG audits can easily be inferred as the state-center govt. spat. Where center wants to mine out the information to attack State government, State is defending by not giving the intended information. But in this spat or fight for the supremacy, it is the common man who is suffering. Being deprived of the right to know what can be important for the society is not righteous.