The Central Information Commission has issued a show cause notice to two scientists of the Environment Ministry for not following its orders to proactively disclose minutes of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee meeting on genetically modified mustard.
“In case of biosafety data being sought, the resolution of the issue with the crop developer should have been over by now and all data shared in public domain. The matter is of great urgency since more and more evidence is emerging on the regulators’ failures and by not sharing all data, they are concealing their failures from citizens,” Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said.
On the plea of activist Kavitha Kuruganti, CIC had ordered the Environment Ministry to proactively make public the data related to genetically modified plants as it was in larger public interest, a clause which over rides exemptions from disclosure under the RTI Act.
But the Environment Ministry officials sought more time from putting the data on their website.
“Apart from the issue of third party related processes is a fairly simple matter of the regulators putting on the website their meeting agenda and full minutes. Their website shows that they do not do this, despite assurances in the CIC hearing and CIC Orders,” Acharyulu said.
He said the public authority did not honour its own commitment to furnish the details and on June 28, 2016 they sought another extension, this time for 90 days.
“To furnish a copy of a report or to place the agenda and minutes of GEAC meeting, they need no time at all. They are just asking for time though they do not require it,” he noted.
Acharyulu said the officials failed to give any specific time for furnishing the details.
“They are holding and controlling the copy of report, resolution, agenda and minutes. Their plea that they are awaiting for final decision is not tenable as that is against RTI Act and Public interest…The Commission views that such tactics are only to delay but not serious requirement for giving. By this they will only harm public interest and facilitate to promote some interest, not desirable,” he said.
Acharyulu said the Ministry is attempting to keep vital information out of public discussion.
“It amounts to prevention of Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression of the appellant, who are interested in discussing the pros and cons of GMO related issues of GM Mustard, which if permitted would cause serious impact on the public health of consumers in large scale,” the Information Commissioner pointed out.
Achayulu issued a show cause notice to P Saranya and Madhumita Biswas, both scientists, why maximum penalty should not be imposed against each of them for noncompliance of Section 4(1)(b) even when such information was rightly sought and directed to be provided under Section 3 and 6 of RTI Act as not hit by Section 8(1).