Scandal Brewing: GoTN v. TNIC over Land
2007-11-03 01:19:51 GMT
|TN govt, info panel lock horns |
A tug-of-war between the Tamil Nadu industries department and the state information commission is throwing up new questions on the implementation of the RTI Act.
Full Story can be found at http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1131346
Industries Department failed to provide full information: NGO
Source: The Hindu (http://www.hinduonnet.com/2007/11/03/stories/2007110360891400.htm )
Senior Industry Dept Officers Face Threat of Arrest over RTI Violation
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, 2/11/2007: The Tamilnadu Information Commission is contemplating invoking its powers under Section 18(3) of the Right to Information Act to summon and enforce the attendance of the public information officer and senior bureaucrats of the Department of Industries in a case where the Department has refused to divulge information relating to Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in Tamilnadu. If invoked, Section 18(3) allows the Commission to function as a Civil Court and issue summons and arrest warrants, and order attachment of properties of officials involved.
"It will be a landmark move and a first for the country if the Commission invokes Section 18 (3). It will send a strong signal nationwide that public authorities cannot stonewall information requests and that the parliament meant for transparency to prevail at any cost when passing this law," said Nity anand Jayaraman, an advisor to Corporate Accountability Desk of The Other Media, a Delhi and Chennai-based NGO.
SEZ, India's new mantra for industrial development, is seen by many as a state-sponsored land grab on behalf of industries. Researchers studying the issue of land acquisition for Special Economic Zones in Tamilnadu have discovered that secrecy and behind-the-scenes dealings are key to the State Government's strategy of taking over land for industrial houses and commercial interests.
On 8.12.2006, Madhumita Dutta, a Chennai-based public interest researcher with Corporate Accountability Desk, requested information from the Department of Industries regarding the status of SEZ applications in the state, and for inspection of files including MoUs, and details of lands to be acquired for the 36 approved SEZ proposals
For seven months, the Department of Industries refused to even acknowledge the information request. At the first Commission hearing on 16.7.07 , the Department lied to the Commission that it never received the requests, despite proof of delivery from the postal department. The applicant's right to inspect the files was conceded pursuant to the Commission's directions. But, during inspection, the applicant was harassed, interrogated, called a mercenary, and finally allowed access to only two out of 36 files. At a subsequent hearing, the Commissioner directed the Department to bring the files to the Commission office in order to avoid further inconvenience to the applicant. However, this and further directions of the Commission have been ignored by the Department.
Now, 11 months after the application was filed, the Department has accused the Commission of denying a fair hearing to the PIO. The Department has also alleged that the applicant is acquires such information and sells it to entrepreneurs for a profit.
Land is a hotly contested issue, and reports are rampant about involvement of politicians and their benamis in real estate speculation surrounding land acquisition for commercial purposes. In its order dated 4.10.07, the Commission has said that it "comes to the inevitable conclusion that the Public Information Officer has totally abdicated his responsibility in this case. . .The Commission therefore comes to the conclusion that there is an organized resistance on the part of the public authority to make the information available as the information pertains to the Special Economic Zones of Tamilnadu being established on which there has been considerable amount of cross-tape opinion."
In Tamilnadu alone, based on available information, the land requirement for 55 out of 66 approved SEZ proposals is about 32,235 acres, or 130 square kilometers – roughly the size of Coimbatore. 13 more proposals are pending approval with state government.
The Tamilnadu Government's refusal to honour the Information Commission's orders points to the hollowness of the Government's claims to transparency, and highlights the possibility of high-level irregularities. "The fact that the officials of the Department are prepared to face arrest and contempt proceedings to keep land-related information pertaining to SEZs a secret hints at possible land scams and high-level irregularities," said the applicant, Madhumita Dutta of the Corporate Accountablity Desk, a campaign of Delhi and Chennai-based NGO The Other Media.
For information contact:
Madhumita Dutta 9444390240
Nityanand Jayaraman 9444082401
S Ramakrishnan, State Chief Information Commissioner: 24357581
Shaktikanta Das, Secretary,TN Industries Department: 25671383
LTA Peter, PIO TN Industries Department: 25670168
Corporate Accountability Desk of The Other Media
42A, 1st Floor, 5th Avenue , Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090
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