Wednesday, April 21, 2010

“RGIA-Hyderabad” is not bound by RTI says GMR !!!

One more PPP and one more drama. I filed an RTI application with AAI (Airports Authority of India) asking whether RGIA (Rajiv Gandhi International Airport) in Hyderabad is a public authority under RTI. And if yes, provide me the details of the PIO etc.

AAI transferred the application to GMR. GMR in a letter said they have filed a writ petition before the High Court of AP challenzing the applicability of RTI to GHIAL (GMR Hyderabad Intl Airport Limited). GHIAL in the writ petition contented that its not a public authority under RTI and hence RTI does not apply to them.

Airport GMR1 

Sec 2(h) of the RTI act says,

(h) "public authority" means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted—
(a) by or under the Constitution;
(b) by any other law made by Parliament;
(c) by any other law made by State Legislature;
(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government,
and includes any—
(i) body owned, controlled or
substantially financed;
(ii) non-Government organisation substantially financed,
directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

In GHIAL,

In total, Govt holds a 26% equity. The total cost of this PPP (Public Private Partnership) is estimated to be INR 24.7 Billion (US$560 million) which is roughly 2500 crore rupees. So the Govt’s share is nearly 625 crore rupees.

In a similar case of DIAL (Delhi International Airport Limited)involving GMR , the central information Commission (CIC) has said,

“DIAL responded saying that they were not a ‘public authority’ as they held a 74% stake in the Joint Venture Company by the name of GMR. On making further enquiries, the Commission was told that the Government had a 26% stake in DIAL. The Commission is of the opinion that a holding of 26 per cent is quite substantial for any company and, therefore, Section 2(1) which states that any body owned, controlled or substantially financed is a public authority is applicable to DIAL and hence they are bound by the directions of the RTI. The Commission, therefore, directs DIAL to provide the information to the Appellant.”

Meanwhile, the Madras high court in a landmark verdict has said  “PPPs are public authorities as they deliver public utilities”.

In holding NTADCL, which supplies water in the industrial town of Tirupur, as a public authority, the court not only favoured a “liberal interpretation” of Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, but stated that the company was essentially carrying out an activity that constitutionally belongs to the state.

“The activity that is undertaken by the petitioner company is essentially a power vested on the municipal authority under article 243(W) read with items 5 and 6 of the XII schedule to the Constitution,” the order said.

Incorporated in 1995, NTADCL was jointly promoted by Tamil Nadu government and private company IL&FS as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to implement the Tirupur area development programme.

While IL&FS holds 27.17 per cent shareholding in NTADCL, the state government holds 17.04 per cent, according to the facts presented in the court. AIDQUA Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, holds 27.89 per cent and public-sector insurance companies hold 10.85 per cent.

NTADCL, which was the petitioner in the case, argued that since it was not “substantially financed” by the government, it could not be deemed a public authority under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

The court took the view that since the law did not specify the proportion of funding required for an entity to become “substantially financed”, it “will have to apply proper test in each case and apply the provisions of the RTI Act to those authorities.”

The order also relied on the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s (duties, powers and conditions of service) Act, 1971, which allows CAG to audit the accounts of any body or authority that has received no less than Rs one crore in public funding, to contend that NTADCL was “substantially financed” by the government.

“The office of the CAG can audit the accounts of the petitioner company after getting prior approval from the state government…. It cannot be contended that the petitioner company will not come within the term ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h)(d).”
The court observed that the PPPs, which generally work on build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) principle and often perform some of the activities of the local governments, “must explain to the people about their activities”.

“Every citizen has a right to know the working of such bodies, lest they may be fleeced by such companies,” the order passed by justice K. Chandru said.

It’s notable that PPPs, which have been coming up in significant numbers across the country in areas of roads, water supply, electricity supply, etc., are loath to share information with the public about their formation, operations, and finances.
Dwivedi had requested some information from NTADCL under the RTI Act, which the latter had refused stating that they were not a ‘public authority’.

The verdict is very important in the light of more and more PPP projects mushrooming across the country. We have to wait and see what GMR has to say now and what the AP High court decides.

Use RTI !!!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Reply of the Public Affairs Officer of the US Consulate in Hyderabad about their representation to cut trees.

I mailed the Public Affairs Officer of the US Consulate in Hyderabad seeking clarification on their position. Below is a copy of my mail,

Dear Ms Juliet,
In the wake of the documents obtained by me using the Right to Information act (RTI) and also the recent news reports about the cutting of tress inside of the Paigah palace, i request you to clarify the position of the US Consulate. It has been made amply clear by the Forest Department that the US Consulate had indeed given a representation for felling of trees in Paigah Palace. The then US Ambassador had denied having any role in reply to an article in the OUTLOOK.
http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?237531
The reports in The Hindu, Mail Today and Eenadu are attached to this mail for your reference.
http://www.hindu.com/2010/04/02/stories/2010040261920600.htm
I request you to clarify the position of the US Consulate given these revelations.

This is the reply of the Public Affairs Officer Juliet Wurr.

“I’m sorry but I don’t know the answer.  I assume that the Ambassador gave what he thought was true.  There was no reason for him to lie.  No one here now was around when the supposed event took place.  I certainly would not base my answer on press reports but what I knew for a fact.  And I don’t know that.  Sorry.

Juliet Wurr

Public Affairs Officer

U.S Consulate General

Hyderabad, India”

I don’t know what to make of this reply. Acceptance or diplomatic or trying to run away from the issue. How can they not know the answer? The representation could not have been made in air. The copy of the representation should be available with the consulate. How can it disappear?

Use RTI !!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Article in the HINDU about US Consulate’s request for cutting trees in Paigah Palace – Use of RTI !!

Trees felled on US request at Paigah Palace

K. Venkateshwarlu

Forest Department clarifies in response to an RTI application filed by an environmentalist

- File Photos: P.V. Sivakumar & Satish .H

Paigah Palace surrounded by green cover before being converted into US Consulate. (Right) US Ambassador to India David

HYDERABAD: Though the US Embassy had denied it at that time, an RTI applicant has now learnt the truth that it was indeed at the Mission's request that the many old trees were felled inside and outside the Paigah Palace, when it was leased out for a US Consulate here in 2007.

Environmentalists protested when several trees, at least one of them over a century-old, were cut down on security grounds.

Heritage building

There was an euphoria then of getting the US Consulate to Hyderabad.

The dominating view at that time was that after all Hyderabad got the Consulate amid stiff competition from Bangalore, and that should take precedence over concerns on alterations to a protected heritage building or loss of trees.

US version

Media reports about tree-felling were denied and the US Embassy passed on the buck to city civic corporation.

Referring to a report on chopping of trees in the Outlook magazine, the then US Ambassador called it “inflammatory”.

“It contains multiple factual inaccuracies, because your reporters never contacted us or offered us a fair opportunity to reply to your allegations. The United States fully accepts responsibility for the stewardship of leased historic properties. We have agreed to protect and maintain the Paigah Palace —and to return it in five years in its restored condition. Our lease agreement also specifies that we will return the palace grounds adorned with twice the number of plants and trees present when we began our tenancy. Moreover, the cutting of trees outside the palace walls, it was done by the city corporation - not for or at the request of the consulate. I want to reassure readers that the US Mission respects India 's local customs and traditions,” he said.

To get to the truth, an RTI activist Rakesh Kumar Dubbudu filed an application with the Forest Department, which confirmed that the felling was done upon the express request of the US Consulate.

Reply

The reply he received recently said:

“The United States Consulate has given representation for felling of trees in Paigah Palace to the Deputy Collector and Tahsildar, Balanagar Mandal, Ranga Reddy district. The Deputy Collector and Tahsildar, Balanagar mandal, Ranga Reddy district, has requested this office (Forest) for according permission for felling of trees in Paigah Palace vide ref No B/14040/2007, dated 7.1.2008”

Based on the representation given by the US Consulate, the department granted permission to cut a total of 62 trees that included Gulmohar, Tamarind, Neem, Milling tone, Royal Palm, Ashoka, he was informed.

 

Use RTI !!