Tamil Nadu may face action under Section 18(3) of RTI Act

Tamil Nadu may face action under Section 18(3) of RTI Act

Chennai: Tamil Nadu has failed to comply with two orders from the State Information Commission to provide information relating to land acquisition for special economic zones (SEZs), leading to demand by the applicant that the information commission seek documents from the government using its power under section 18(3) of the Right to Information Act. The section confers the power of a civil court to the Information Commission.

“This is for the first time probably anywhere in India we are facing this (action under section 18 (3) of RTI Act) situation," said S. Ramakrishnan, state chief information commissioner. “There is no fixed time frame for action under this section". The matter will be heard next week.

On the other hand, the state government claims that it has obtained a stay order from the Madras High Court on 26 October 2007 against operations of the state information commission order.

Strangely, the government claims that the information cannot be shared as private parties involved in the projects are against it.

A senior official in Industries Department who did not want to be identified, said, “We are unable to provide documents that are not of the department like project reports and memorandum of understanding (MoUs) as these have commercial significance and companies have said no to us sharing them."

Ramakrishnan, however, says that they have not received any information regarding stay order from the Madras High Court. The Industries department has complained that it was not given proper hearing before the commission, therefore the complaint would be heard next week and action under section 18 (3), taken subsequently.

Madhumita Dutta, a volunteer at The Other Media who sought information from industries department from December last year, said she wants to share the details of land being acquired with the affected people, so that they can take informed decision about their. “At present, no information is available and people are being cheated", she said.

Her organization claims that, “the land requirement for 55 out of 66 approved SEZ proposals is about 32,235 acres, or 130 square kilometres roughly the size of Coimbatore (a tier II city in Tamil Nadu)".

In an earlier case too, the state had failed to provide details about the proposed Tata Titanium Project in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu.