RTI appeal: MTC adamant, unwilling to consider precedents

We filed an appeal on August 25, 2010 with the Appellate Authority of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation, Chennai, on the refusal of information by the Public Information Officer. The appeal is reproduced below, since it contains many citations that might be usefully discussed by the RTI community.

Such efforts can only be strengthened if the large community of commuters in Chennai get together and demand transparency in the working of the MTC.

The Managing Director
Metropolitan Transport Corporation
Pallavan House, Chennai 600002

Dear Sir,

Appeal filed under Right to Information Act, 2005, Please look at your reply to my application, your ref No. 37203/RTI/MTC/2010 Dated 10-08-2010
With reference to above reply, I would like to inform you that the Public Information Officer of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) has seriously erred in interpreting the Right to Information Act provisions and wrongly denied my request for specific information. I hereby appeal that you review and reverse the decision of the PIO for reasons that follow, and provide me full information as sought.

The PIO has refused to provide information for three questions, detailed below and contained in my petition, citing exemption under Section 8 (1) (d). He has not provided a proper answer to question No. 5 of my petition, and has written something unintelligible.

I had asked for a copy (including electronic copy, as an alternative), of the Detailed Project Report of the MTC, submitted to the Ministry of Urban Development for grant assistance under JNNURM funding.

I reproduce the questions for your ready reference:

1. Provide a copy of the Detailed Project Report submitted by MTC to the Ministry of Urban Development or other authority, for assistance to acquire and operate buses under the JNNURM scheme (as required under Ministry of Urban Development regulations). You can also send the DPR copy electronically as a PDF document by  email.

(Question 2 answered)

3. How many buses are under JNNURM grant, and what is the value of the grant in financial terms?

4. Do the JNNURM grant conditions stipulate that the buses should only be operated in the city covered by DPR, and not diverted for other use?

5. Has MTC attended any meeting of a newly formed Transport Regulatory Authority in Chennai during 2008-10? If yes, what was the decision taken on integrating rail and bus service in Chennai, as required under Ministry of Urban Development’s Total Mobility Plan covering JNNURM assistance? (No answer received, only unintelligible response)

I have to contend that your PIO’s resort to the exemption under S. 8 (1) (d) to deny answers to Questions 1, 3 and 4 is erroneous, for the following reasons.

The MTC is a monopoly public entity owned by the Government of Tamil Nadu, with no scope for competitive commercial activity within the city of Chennai. It is accountable to the legislature of the State, has no commercial secrets that the public should not know. It is not engaged in creation of intellectual property which is sought to be deployed for profit within the meaning of the Right to Information Act.

Your mandate is to provide people-friendly bus service to the city of Chennai in the public interest, for which you derive funds from the Government of Tamil Nadu and fare income from passengers. The MTC is therefore funded by the public. These sources form the dominant part of your operational funding, and as a monopoly, you have no commercial disadvantage of any kind (as defined in the RTI for a Third Party) in highlighting your operational information and plans for public service. If anything, such information will aid the public to strengthen the plans of the government and create goodwill for enhanced funding of bus service, fulfilling the scope of JNNURM and National Urban Transport Policy and also the aims of the State government.

MTC also has no fiduciary relationship with any profit-seeking entity, as it is a wholly government-owned undertaking.

Please note that your PIO has not explained the reasons for denial of information, or how the disclosure of the requested information would affect the commercial interests of MTC. Such explanation is called for by law. You are requested to peruse the order of the Central Information Commission in R. Venkataraman v. IOCL, decision dated 24-06-2009 in this regard. The CIC has in that case directed the disclosure of information and pulled up the PIO for not offering reasons for denial.

Also, your DPR has already been submitted to the funding agency, and disclosure of the information will in no way affect its commercial scope, if any. You have no patents on any of the designs involved, or other exclusive intellectual property that is protected by law.

In Qayyum Mohammad, Sidhi v. NTPC Limited, the Central Information Commission (Appeal No. CIC / MA / A / 2007 / 00625 dated 3-12-2007) has specifically quashed the denial of request for copy of a Project Report under Section 8 (1) (d), holding that there is no justification for not putting such study reports in public domain, especially when a large number of people are likely to be affected due to execution of the relevant projects. I contend that the same principle be applied to MTC DPR, since it is being paid for by the citizens of India, and envisages expansion of bus service affecting a large number of citizens in Chennai and suburbs. It is fully in the public interest.

As you are well aware, the Right to Information Act was enacted by the Government of India with the goal of increasing transparency in the administration at all levels, reducing corruption and making public services accountable and accessible to the citizens.

The scope of section 8 (1) (d) is only to protect intellectual property that has commercial implications for any entity, including a public sector entity, in terms of its anticipated revenue performance, garnering of profits, sale of IP rights and so on.

In the case of the Detailed Project Report for special JNNURM grant, as envisaged by the Union Urban Development Ministry and publicised on its website, the scope of the document is to assess the present performance of the service provider, and outline the future scope of service provision while making an application for grant funding. This is a perspective plan, and contains no exclusive commercial information that is likely to affect your earnings or give someone a competitive advantage over you, more so since you are a monopoly. What is more, the grant is to be funded by the taxpayer, who has every right to be kept informed about how his tax funds remitted to government are being spent.

In fact, it is contended that MTC, as a tax-funded entity, should have put up this document suo motu, under Section 4 (1) (b), (c) and (d). You may note the relevant provision of the law: publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public; and It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.

It is to be noted that the MTC PIO has totally misread or misunderstood the provision of Sec 8 (1) (d) because other transport corporations, including commercial undertakings such as Indore City Transport Services Limited are available on the Internet, freely accessible to the general public.
See Indore City Bus DPR here http://www.citybusindore.com/pdf/Draft-DPR.pdf
Ahmedabad DPR on Bus Rapid Transit system here (link since removed) and now available here
Pune BRT DPR here http://www.pcmcindia.in/ESMF%20Report/Executive%20Summary.pdf

I would like to point out that MTC has not even complied with the basic requirement of the law since it came into force, which is to publish information on the corporation website under Section 4 (1) as mandated under pro-active disclosure clauses. Only a search on the Internet reveals the presence of a Section 4 document under RTI for the MTC, and it is not displayed to the public on your website. It is also not clear whether it has been updated to be current. You are requested to comply with this section of the Act without delay.

Your attention is also drawn to the Union Ministry publishing key aspects to be covered by the DPR, such as features of buses to be purchased under JNNURM grant, and the model of service provision, maintenance of buses and compliance with the Centre’s Urban Transport Policy. This document is in the public domain on the website of the Union Urban Development Ministry at this location: http://jnnurm.nic.in/nurmudweb/FOB/buses_funding.pdf

The Government of India has repeatedly affirmed that it is committed to transparent functioning and accountability in use of public funds, as envisaged in the Constitution, and in the Right to Information Act. JNNURM funding falls totally under the ambit of public projects, as it is used in a public service, and is entirely in the public interest. You are required to disclose information under Section 8 (1) (d) under the public interest provision, even if it is otherwise covered by the Third Party commercial clause.

Without prejudice to my above claim in the public interest, I would like to state that your PIO has violated the provisions of the RTI Act by denying the DPR in toto, when there are precedents to show that even where commercial interests are involved, other parts of a document are not covered by the exemption granted by Sec 8 (1) (d). I am citing this merely to reinforce the point that your PIO has not considered my application with an open mind, and in the public interest, but rejected my request arbitrarily.

In Navroz Mody v. Mumbai Port Trust, the Central Information Commission held that even where there is a confidentiality clause in an agreement, such agreement could not be withheld wholesale, without making a determination whether there are parts which are confidential and others that are not. (Appeal No. CIC / AT / A / 2009 / 009964).

I contend that since your PIO has not assigned any reason and denied all information pertaining to the DPR, he has considered my application with the pre-determined conclusion not to disclose any information at all. This is clearly unacceptable and violative of my citizen’s rights under the RTI Act. It also violates the principle of public interest and natural justice for citizens.

Now therefore, you are requested to reverse the decision of the PIO and provide a copy of the Detailed Project Report for funding of buses under JNNURM either as paper copy or as an electronic file in Portable Document Format.

As the information sought has not been provided within the stipulated time of 30 days based on a wrong reading of the provisions, no further charges are payable to you to get a copy of it.
You are also requested to provide information relating to question number 5 in the original petition, as the PIO has failed to do so.

Thanking you,

Sincerely,

G.Ananthakrishnan

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1 Comment

Filed under Bus Rapid Transit, Buses, Chennai, Commuters, Explore, India, MTC, News, Public Transport, Right to Information Act, Straphangers, Transport, Transport Information

One response to “RTI appeal: MTC adamant, unwilling to consider precedents

  1. Great work Sir!

    The DPR must contain the details of fleet strength as on date when it was submitted. This will cause problem for the kazhagam govt. Initially 50 Volvos were servicing city with state funds. This must have been mentioned in DPR when asking grant for 100 more. JnNURM would grant this considering Chennai will have 150 fleets. But then the state funded ones were transfered to TNSTC and city is left with 100 Volvos only.

    I am keenly expecting the reply of this appeal. Please keep us posted. Thanks for all the good work you have been doing!

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