CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has withheld information to an RTI applicant on Vedanta Limited’s Sterlite operations in Thoothukudi without giving proper justification. This, after the applicant was initially informed that 600-page documents will be shared upon his paying Rs 1,200 through demand draft.
The application was filed on April 13 by environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman under Section 7(1) of Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, invoking ‘Life and Liberty’ clause that obligates public authorities to furnish information within 48 hours – either with provision of information or denial stating reasons. However, even after 15 days, the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the TNPCB is making the applicant run from pillar to post.
In his RTI application, Jayaraman asked nine questions seeking copies of TNPCB memo dated April 9 rejecting Vedanta’s application for renewal of consent to operate, reports by Thoothukudi District Environmental Engineer (DEE) regarding Vedanta’s existing operations and ongoing construction for setting up of 1,200 tonnes per day smelter plant, reports by Joint Chief Environmental Engineer of Tirunelveli, showcause notice issued to SIPCOT Industrial Park and copies of analyses of samples of water and air taken from the vicinity of the Vedanta facility.
Jayaraman told Express that the information was needed to implead in the case filed by Sterlite, challenging the TNPCB rejection to renew Consent to Operate, before the TNPCB Appellate Authority. Also, the board has turned a blind eye to illegal construction of new copper smelter complex in Therku Veerapandiapuram.
Explaining how his right to legal recourse and access to justice in the matter of Sterlite’s pollution have been thwarted by TNPCB, Jayaraman said, “The PIO constantly gave a false hope that the information will be provided. On April 18, PIO responded to an SMS enquiry saying they were in the process of compilation and the request had been forwarded to PIO, Joint Chief Environmental Engineer, Tirunelveli, who was in possession of the information. Later, on April 20, the PIO said over phone that PIO, Tirunelveli, had compiled about 600 pages of information, that the information would arrive by courier in Board Corporate Office, Guindy, by April 23, and that a further two days would be need to verify and organise the same. On April 24, I was asked to come next day with a demand draft for Rs 1,200 in favour of TNPCB.”
“However, on arrival at the board’s office on April 25, PIO said the information could not be handed over as the legal department needed time to vet it. I was told that given the sensitivity of the matter, a legal opinion was required before the information could be handed over.
The PIO expressed his inability to do anything about the matter stating it was out of his hands, and was unable to provide a firm date by which the response would be provided,” Jayaraman explained. Now, Jayaraman has filed an appeal before the Appellant Authority under RTI Act, 2005, to furnish the information without delay. The TNPCB officials were not available for comment.