Central undertaking tells RTI applicant to pay Rs 2.46 crore for info

Activist Saravanan had sought soft copies of data on high tide line and ecologically sensitive areas in TN from the National Coastal Zone Management Authority

Published: 20th October 2016 02:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th October 2016 02:02 PM   |  A+A-

RTI

Copy of the reply to an RTI filed by the activist.

Express News Service

CHENNAI: How much does information on high tide line (HTL) and ecologically sensitive areas (ESA) in Tamil Nadu cost? A Union Environment Ministry undertaking based in Chennai that studies coastal areas of the country sought a whopping Rs 2.46 crore from an RTI applicant for this information — at Rs 11,400 and Rs 14,400 per km for the HTL and  ESA, respectively.

Chennai-based RTI activist K Saravanan had sent an application to the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) seeking soft copies on data of HTL) and ESA in Tamil Nadu. The application was forwarded to the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), which had prepared the database.

Replying to this, NCSCM’s central public information officer Purvaja Ramachandran said the applicant has to pay Rs 2.46 cr to get the data. The reply dated September 2, 2016, reads, “Soft copy (pdf) of the HTL data of Tamil Nadu will be supplied on payment of the cost of the data of Rs 1,08,87,000  at the rate of Rs 11,400 per km. Also, soft copy (pdf) of ESA data of Tamil Nadu will be supplied on payment of Rs 1,37,52,000 at the rate Rs 14,400 per km by the applicant to NCSCM.”

Saravanan then filed an appeal to obtain information in electronic mode under RTI, and the guide issued under Office Memorandum of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions dated October 5, 2009, that provides for a fee of Rs 50 per CD/ floppy/diskettes/tapes/video cassette.

What followed was more bizarre. The centre’s director and also the first appellate authority, R Ramesh, dismissed the appeal on the grounds that information sought would prejudicially affect the scientific and economic interest of the State. He added that NCSCM is a Central government organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and thus falls under the category of “State” and the information is exempt from disclosure as per the provisions of the Act.

Drawing comparisons, he said the NCSCM cannot disclose information, just like how information about design and launching of rockets and satellites by the ISRO or for that matter, missiles being launched, and that the consultancy projects carried out by IIT-M cannot be revealed. “The HTL and ESA (CRZ 1) data requested by the applicant is the scientific foundation data set and is the very scientific basis on which the consultancy projects being carried by the NCSCM are based,” he said in the order.

When contacted, an NCSCM official said if the applicant is not satisfied with the order, he can file an appeal before the Central Information Commission in New Delhi. “We said what we have to say. We have already submitted the HTL and ESA data to Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA) Tamil Nadu, which will be put in their website once it is made official. People can take the data from the CZMA instead of writing to the NCSCM. The old HTL data is already there in the website,” the official explained.
Saravanan told Express that he would file an appeal before the Central Information Commission.

“It is a planned attempt by the NCSCM to deny information that will be useful to fishing communities to assert traditional rights and fight the upsurge of illegal constructions on the beach,” he alleged.



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