RTI Information Officer Suspended For Providing Information On Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train Project
Just a few days after a Right To Information(RTI) revealed that the Maharashtra government did not discuss the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project before clearing It, the state government has suspended the information officer, Sarangkumar Patil who had provided the information of the RTI.
The RTI collected by activist Jeetendra Ghadge has revealed that not a single meeting had been conducted by the Maharashtra government before approving the project. According to the Firstpost, on February 27, 2017, the home department of the state had issued a circular saying that there will be a formation of a subcommittee headed by CM Devendra Fadnavis to look into the bullet train project. It added that the committee will also conduct an “in-depth study” of the project. However, the RTI revealed that no meetings were held before approving the bullet train project.
The other finding of the RTI was that the state Transport Department in its report, in the RTI reply, has responded that the investment in the project can be lost in the form of wasted Floor Space Index and the investment is not economically viable.
CM refuted from the claims
After the RTI revelations, the Fadnavis led-Maharashtra BJP government received a lot of flak. The ministers of the state implied that they didn’t have any say in approving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project, as reported by the News18.
The Maharashtra government also refuted the claim that “no meeting was done before the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project was passed”. It said that the subcommittee did hold meetings of the project and the CM was also briefed about it, reported Firstpost. CM Fadnavis while claiming that the provided RTI information is wrong, said, “Selective information was asked under the RTI Act. The state cabinet made the decision. The committee had held meetings.” However, he did not share details of the meetings, reports the Firspost.
Officer suspended for providing “incorrect information”
Following the criticism received by the RTI response, the Maharastra government has suspended Patil for allegedly providing “incorrect information”. He is also facing an inquiry by the home department of Maharashtra.
In the past, many RTI’s have also made revelation remarks, but this is the first instance where an information officer, who has provided the data has been suspended. Condemning Patil’s suspension, activist Ghadge said he was “shocked”. “The Chief Minister’s Office is clearly misleading by not sharing the dates of the meeting, yet insisting that the information is incorrect. I hope better sense prevails and the suspension is cancelled,” he said.
A brief about the project
Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (MAHSR) with a route-length of 508 km has a total estimated cost of Rs 1.1 lakh crore. The bullet train will run at a speed of 320-350 kmph and will have 12 stations between Mumbai to Ahmedabad across its 500 km stretch. The project is implemented by National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL). The project is financed by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) by lending Rs 88,000 crore at the 0.1% interest which is required to be paid in 50 years. The bullet train corridor is meant to benefit diamond merchants, textile traders and other professionals who shuffle between the cities for work.
Affected areas and environmental concerns
The project has affected eight districts and 192 villages in Gujarat; and four districts and twelve villages in Maharashtra, acquiring 612.17 ha of land in Gujarat, 246.42 ha in Maharashtra and 7.52 ha in Dadar and Nagar Haveli. The project has also acquired 866 of fertile farmland and cut down more than 80,000 trees. According to the report (Mumbai-Ahmedabad High speed rail: A people’s critique, prepared by the coalition of various organization resisting bullet-train project in Gujarat and, Maharashtra), the route of MAHSR would cause indiscriminate loss to mangroves, multiple reserved forests and biodiversity. This would also decrease the carbon-sequestration by these forests, resulting in increase in the level of CO2. The farming practices which otherwise helps in mitigating climate change would increase the level of air pollution and after the destruction of fertile farmlands.