The Environment Ministry on its failure to reveal Bio Safety data on GM Mustard Trials, earned the ire of Central Information Commission. The CIC directed the authorities to make available all necessary details without any further delay. It upheld that such delays thwart public discourse on matters of urgent public importance amounting to violation of their fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
The Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) had earlier denied an RTI application filed by Ms. Kavitha Kuruganti seeking information regarding field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) Mustard, on grounds of confidentiality. The CIC however dismissed the ministry’s contentions and mandated them to provide the sought details by 30th April, 2016. The Environment Ministry had then assured of the disclosure within 2 month. However, failing to honour the timeline, the authorities had again requested a time frame of another 90 days, which has been turned down by the Information Commission.
Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu Condemned ministry’s inability to proactively share bio safety data related to GM mustard as well as minutes and agendas of the meetings of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (environment ministry’s regulator for GMOs and transgenic products) within the stipulated time frame. He stated in the order that, “There appears to be no seriousness in seeking extension. They are routinely asking for extension without specifying the period. The commission views such tactics are only to delay but not serious requirement for giving. By this they will only harm the public interest and facilitate to promote some interest. Not desirable. ”
The Information Commissioner further stated that “Public authority is attempting to keep vital information out of public discussion. It amounts to prevention of Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression of the appellant, who are interested in discussing the pros and cons of GMO related issues of GM Mustard, which if permitted would cause serious impact on the public health of consumers in large scale.”. The Information commissioner has also directed the two officials responsible for the delay to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed against each of them for non-compliance and breaching their own undertaking to provide information within 2 months.
Information Commissioner’s stance on the issue is likely to give impetus to informed public discourse on GM crops. The issue has a direct bearing on public health and thus the people have the right to be fully informed. The order will have far reaching impact of issue of GEAC’s operational transparency.
Read the order here.