Open amendment

By Sumana Narayanan
Published: Monday 15 December 2008

RTI sets a precedent

the environment and forests ministry will now have to release all information related to the amendment of the 2006 environment impact assessment (eia) notification. The ministry will also have to make public, details of approvals the National Biodiversity Authority (nba) has granted for access and use of India's bio-resources. This has been possible because of two right to information, or rti, applications.

The process of finalizing a notification is usually not open to scrutiny. The Central Information Commission's order on the rti regarding the changes in the eia notification has forced the ministry to disclose the papers before the government finalizes the amendment. "This order could also be used as a precedent to gaining information on other notifications awaiting finalization, such as the coastal management zone notification," said Kanchi Kohli of Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group.

Manju Menon of Kalpavriksh had filed an rti application in February 2008, seeking access to documents pertaining to the amendment of the eia notification. The ministry refused to divulge information claiming the documents to be cabinet papers. The rti Act, 2005, says that cabinet papers need not be shared till a decision is taken on the issue under debate, but does not define a cabinet paper. Menon appealed to the Central Information Commission.

Another rti application was filed in September 2007 by S Butani on behalf of Campaign for Conservation and Community Control over Biodiversity, an association of ngos. It sought access to details of approvals granted by nba under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. The purpose was to push for transparency, said Butani.

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