Skewed approach

When government agencies do give out information, they think it is above reproach

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Skewed approach

-- IN APRIL 1996, Down to Earth ('The Trouble with the Trapezium', DTE , Vol 4, No 22 ) published an article pointing out that the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute ( neeri ), Nagpur, had consistently accused small-scale industries in Agra and Ferozabad for pollution in the Taj Trapezium, but omitted mention of the Mathura refinery.

The article was based on a 1993 neeri report - Air Pollution Studies to Redefine Taj Trapezium Coordinates - which specifically identified foundries and glass units as the prime culprits. The report, which was also criticised by former deputy director of neeri J M Dave, failed to provide conclusive evidence linking any industry with damage to the Taj.Project guide and neeri director P Khanna, and project leader A L Agarwal, had recommended further studies to "establish the causal relationships".

A 20-page rejoinder was sent to dte by neeri shortly after the article was published, threatening legal action if an apo-logy was not published immediately. It accused DTE of having a "...vested interest in small-scale industries". Unable to print a 20-page complaint along with the rejoinder, cse sent neeri a detailed point-by-point rebuttal.

But neeri nevertheless filed a complaint with the Press Council of India, saying that DTE did not respond to its objections. DTE replied to the Council's queries, pointing out that no scientific organisation had the right to distort information to suit predetermined conclusions. Counsel for neeri presented the argument that neeri was proud of the study, implying that neeri , a government organisation, was above reproach. DTE maintained that neeri was not a holy cow just because it was a government organisation. DTE , which stood for transparency in the working of government organisations, had the right to differ.

On April 22, 1997, the Press Council told neeri that DTE's criticism was not out of hand and that it should learn to accept criticism. The matter was, therefore, closed. The Council suggested that neeri send a shorter version of its objections to the article and allowed DTE to publish its response to the rejoinder. Three months have gone by but neeri has still not sent in the response.

Games polluters play
'An open government is a contradiction in terms' - Yes Minister
Game I: In the interest of principal
there are many games polluters play with the public. One of them is to act interested in principles. Or is it in the interest on the principal involved? Ask the Indian Institute of Petroleum. While researching fuel quality for the its publication, Slow Murder: The deadly story of vehicular pollution in India , cse wanted to test the quality of fuel available in petrol pumps. The Centre had information which showed that the standards for fuel quality in India were significantly lower than elsewhere in the world, and that most refineries maxi-mised production by compromising on quality ('Nailed! for slow murder,' Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 12).

cse researcher Anju Sharma contacted the Indian Institute of Petroleum ( iip ), Dehradun - the public sector organisation which tests the quality of fuel. But iip refused to test samples for cse , saying that the last time it tested fuel samples for a customer other than a refinery, its officials were summoned to testify before court.

So cse published its complaints in Slow Murder - released on November 5, 1996 - along with iip's refusal. It said that the public sector organisation had failed to live up to its responsibilities towards the public and refused despite the fact that cse was willing to pay for the tests. Down To Earth carried a report on this and DTE received a letter from the iip soon after, objecting to publication of the fact that they had refused. Project guide and neeri director P Khanna, and project leader A L Agarwal, had recommended further studies to "establish the causal relationships".

A 20-page rejoinder was sent to DTE by neeri shortly after the article was published, threatening legal action if an apology was not published immediately. It accused DTE of having a "...vested interest in small-scale industries". Unable to print a 20-page complaint along with the rejoinder, cse sent neeri a detailed point-by-point rebuttal.

But neeri nevertheless filed a complaint with the Press Council of India, saying that DTE did not respond to its objections. DTE replied to the Council's queries, pointing out that no scientific organisation had the right to distort information to suit predetermined conclusions. Counsel for neeri presented the argument that neeri was proud of the study, implying that neeri , a government organisation, was above reproach. DTE maintained that neeri was not a holy cow just because it was a government organisation. DTE , which stood for transparency in the working of government organisations, had the right to differ.

On April 22, 1997, the Press Council told neeri that DTE's criticism was not out of hand and that it should learn to accept criticism. The matter was, therefore, closed. The Council suggested that neeri send a shorter version of its objections to the article and allowed DTE to publish its response to the rejoinder. Three months have gone by but neeri has still not sent in the response.

Games polluters play
'An open government is a contradiction in terms' - Yes Minister
Game I: In the interest of principal
there are many games polluters play with the public. One of them is to act interested in principles. Or is it in the interest on the principal involved? Ask the Indian Institute of Petroleum. While researching fuel quality for the its publication, Slow Murder: The deadly story of vehicular pollution in India , cse wanted to test the quality of fuel available in petrol pumps. The Centre had information which showed that the standards for fuel quality in India were significantly lower than elsewhere in the world, and that most refineries maxi-mised production by compromising on quality ('Nailed! for slow murder,' Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 12).

cse researcher Anju Sharma contacted the Indian Institute of Petroleum ( iip ), Dehradun - the public sector organisation which tests the quality of fuel. But iip refused to test samples for cse , saying that the last time it tested fuel samples for a customer other than a refinery, its officials were summoned to testify before court.

So cse published its complaints in Slow Murder - released on November 5, 1996 - along with iip's refusal. It said that the public sector organisation had failed to live up to its responsibilities towards the public and refused despite the fact that cse was willing to pay for the tests. Down To Earth carried a report on this and DTE received a letter from the iip soon after, objecting to publication of the fact that they had refused.

"Who says the arai is funded by taxpayers' money?" said a bellicose Bhati. " arai is funded partly by the automobile industry and partly by the ministry." So where did he think the money from the ministry came from? For that matter, did he know where the money to pay the bureaucrat's salary come from? It turned out he didn't, or wouldn't. "I will not give you the information," he said petulantly. "It belongs to me." An admission, if anybody ever came close to making it, of a closed attitude on the right to information.

cse finally had to prepare the paper for Chidambaram without this information. The sum and substance of this is just one thing. As pollution grows, don't expect the government to tell you about the health threats you face.

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