The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) has imposed a blanket ban on release of minutes of board meetings and other high-powered committee meetings claiming exemption under various different sections of the RTI act.
Issues like Metro alignment, which are discussed at these meetings, are now not accessible to RTI applicants. BMRCL is claiming exemption from releasing this information under Section 8(1)d of the RTI Act.
This section deals with information of a commercial confidence, trade secrets and intellectual property.
This defence by BMRCL has earlier been found insufficient by the Information Commission who asked that the information be provided immediately in a application filed by former mayor P R Ramesh in 2009.
Such experiences with BMRCL are not uncommon, say RTI activists. In fact, the RTI link on the BMRCL website first lists exemptions under various sections for which the BMRCL does not have to give out information.
“This kind of blanket ban on giving out information essentially means that they have decided not to, at the start. They defeat the purpose of the RTI act,” said Vinay Srinivas of the Alternative Law Forum.
At a time when other public sector organisations like BESCOM are proactively sharing minutes of meetings online, this is a step back for BMRCL.
The recent alignment change at Jayadeva Hospital, which has raised a ruckus, was one of the recent decisions taken at such a High-Powered Committee meeting.
“When the RTI act has the power to tell us the places that our Prime Minister has visited on any particular day, how can the BMRCL refuse to give information as simple as this?,” questioned N P Amrutesh, a senior high court advocate.
He further rubbished another exemption claimed by BMRCL under Section(8) 1 a citing security concerns for not sharing drawings and sketches of civil constructions and Metro stations.
“The metro stations are not located on the border or in a sensitive zone for them to cite such concerns,” he pointed out.
This is just an attempt to hide information about their dealings from the public, he added.
Not the first time for Metro project
As recently as two weeks back, the Karnataka Information Commission imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on the Public Information Officer of BMRCL for failing to provide satisfactory information about its procurement of sand.
Dissatisfied with the reply provided by the PIO, the applicant approached the Commission as a second appeal and a year later, in January, the PIO was directed to appear before the commission, a summons which was ignored. This subsequently led to the fine being imposed.
This is not the first time BMRCL is keeping its information guarded. Last year, another RTI application by the same applicant was provided to him 11 months after the request was made instead of the mandated 30 days. A fine of Rs 25,000 was imposed on BMRCL as that time for failing to comply with the RTI Act.
BMRCL had been reprimanded by the Information Commission and directed to provide information sought by former Mayor P R Ramesh in 2009. Ramesh had been refused information about BMRCL’s detailed project report and other documents under Section 8(1)d of the RTI Act.