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The Irrigation Department of the Uttarakhand government has refused to supply a student of National Law University, Jodhpur with information under the RTI Act.
What beggars belief is the fact that the Department has asked Abhijay Negi, the applicant, to prove that he is an Indian citizen in order to receive the information.
Negi, a final year student of NLUJ, had filed an RTI application seeking information on the revival of two dying rivers in Uttarakhand.
Through Making a Difference by Being the Difference (MAD), an organisation he is part of, Negi had launched a campaign to save the Rispana and Bindal rivers.
Earlier, his endeavour had received support from Uttarakhand Chief Minister and erstwhile Union Minister of Water Resources Harish Rawat, who had written to the National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) to look into the prospects of the revival. The NIH subsequently reported that they were perennial streams that could indeed be revived. This prompted Ajai Pradyot, then Secretary of the Irrigation Department, to call for action.
The Chief Minister even directed the District Magistrate to include MAD along with Negi as one of the panel members to oversee the rivers’ revival. However, his suggestion to rehabilitate the slums around the river bed was met with opposition, after which he filed the RTI.
In an email to Bar & Bench, Negi says,
“Two MLAs of the ruling party pounce[d] on us. They have patronized the slum dwellers are their vote banks and have dangerously settled them on the stream bed itself. They oppose any effort to shift them to a better location and insist that amenities be provided there.”
This is not the first time Negi has had an RTI application turned down; the Dehradun office of NABARD had earlier shot down a query, asking him to furnish identity proof and why he had posted the RTI application from a different location other than Jodhpur.
Summing up his experiences, he says,
“…there is emerging a general tendency in public authorities after the decision of the Apex Court in CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay to either classify information sought as not ‘readily available’ or to simply indulge in delaying tactics…
…but the trend in RTIs is visible – buy time and harass. They do this even when information sought is of public nature and not really covered by any of the Section 8 grounds.”