Exclusive: Did a minister cite a non-existent study in her Parliament reply

Renuka Singh Saruta had attributed a study to IIT-Delhi on COVID-19 in tribal areas; but the institution does not have it

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Wednesday 21 October 2020
Did Renuka Singh Saruta cite a non-existent study in her Parliament reply. Photo: Press Information Bureau / Twitter
Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Renuka Singh Saruta. Photo:  Press Information Bureau / Twitter Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Renuka Singh Saruta. Photo: Press Information Bureau / Twitter

It could be a major flip-flop, that too by a central minister in Parliament. Minister of State for Tribal Affairs, Renuka Singh Saruta in an answer to the Rajya Sabha, attributed data to a study that might not exist.

Saruta told the Rajya Sabha September 17, 2020, that less than three per cent of people in tribal areas had been infected by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. She referred to a study by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, which arrived at the figure of COVID-19 burden in 177 tribal-dominated districts across the country. 

“In a recent study done by IIT-Delhi, in 177 tribal dominated districts with a population of more than 25 per cent, less than three per cent has been detected as corona positive,” the minister had replied in response to a question by Biju Janata Dal’s Amar Patnaik.

“So far, there has been no report of any major outbreak of the disease in the tribal areas, which might be a cause for concern,” Saruta had added. 

On September 24, this correspondent filed an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) with the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) and IIT-Delhi, asking for the study as well as the methodology used for the study. The responses to both RTIs suggest that no such study was carried out by IIT- Delhi.  

IIT-Delhi responded that no such information was available with either its Centre for Rural Development, Industrial Research and Development Unit or with the Registrar’s office. 

There were multiple departments in IIT that might have the information. The applicant should specify the department which would have the information, the response added. 

A copy of the response by IIT-Delhi to Down To Earth's Ishan Kukreti

Under the RTI Act, the responsibility of transferring an application to a specific department lies with the Central / Public Information Officer (C / PIO). The applicant does not have to file the request with a specific deparment with the public authority.

“We sent your request to the related departments who would have the information sought by you. But they don’t have the information,” the assistant of IIT-Delhi’s C / PIO said in a telephone conversation with Down to Earth (DTE).

The assistant added that no other department was likely to have done this research study and therefore the request wasn’t sent to other departments.  

The other RTI request, filed with the MoTA, has been forwarded to the National Informatics Centre (NIC). 

Under Section 6 (3) of the RTI Act, the C / PIO can transfer the RTI request to another authority if the information sought is either not with the C / PIO’s public authority or is a subject matter that is more closely related to some other public authority.

Transferring the RTI request to NIC means that MoTA either doesn’t have the information or that the information is with NIC. However, the answers given by ministers in Parliament are written by officials of their respective ministries. 

Parliamentary questions usually come to the concerned division through the joint secretary and the answer is framed there, a source in the government told DTE on the condition of anonymity.

The source said they found it hard to believe that the ministry did not have the study which it referred to in its written response and which the minister told Parliament about. 

DTE has sent a detailed questionnaire to the minister. Her response is awaited. 

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