Thursday, July 27, 2017

Tamilnadu refuses to share Information of sale of Amma mineral water under RTI

Times of India: Chennai: Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Secrecy doesn't just surround her life and death, but anything that bears her name as well.
Information on sale of Amma mineral water a welfare scheme is a "trade secret" and "commercial confidence" and its disclosure would harm the "competitive position of a third party", said the State Express Transport Corporation (SETC) here, in response to an RTI application filed by TOI.
The applicant had sought details of the sale of mineral water bottles across the state since 2014 and the budget allocated for the scheme.
The public information officer of SETC turned down the request by quoting Section 8 (1) (d) of the Right to Information Act, 2005: "Information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information."
Launched in 2013, Amma mineral water, run by SETC through a production plant in Gummidipoondi, is sold at 307 stalls across the state at a cost of Rs 10. Chennai accounts for 37 of these outlets. The one-litre water is priced at a cost lesser than Rail Neer, a similar initiative, while private manufacturers sell at Rs 20-25.
RTI activists have rubbished the state's defence using sections of the Act to stonewall queries.
"When it is a welfare scheme what competition are they talking about?" asked Shailesh Gandhi noted RTI activist and former Information Commissioner with the Central Information Commission in New Delhi. He said public sector undertakings like Bank of India and Air India usually cite this section of the Act as they are businesses in a competitive market. "But this is a pro-poor scheme. Using this to evade queries is plain ridiculous," he said, adding even private companies furnish details of their sales and turnover.
Consumer activist T Sadagopan said the state government is "diluting" the Act by using it as a shield. "Amma water belongs to the state. It is similar to the public distribution system. I find it surprising that they don't think the public interest warrants the disclosure of such information," he said.
While the Public Information Officer did not respond to calls made by TOI, a senior official in the department, on condition of anonymity, said there was poor patronage for the project now.
"But we have been meeting our targets despite hurdles," he clarified. He, however, parried request for statistical evidence.