Rising Kashmir NewsSrinagar, Oct 31:
Central Information Commission (CIC) has “bailed out” National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) by refusing to direct it to give details of negotiations regarding the return of hydel projects it operates in Jammu Kashmir.
A Right to Information (RTI) activist, Venkatesh Nayak in his second appeal matter had questioned the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) about the delay in providing answer to his query.
Nayak accused CIC of allowing NHPC, the “respondent” to not respond to the query by treating it as a “third party”.
The noted RTI activist said NHPC's efforts to maintain secrecy about the negotiations contradict the repeated assertions of the Union Ministry of Power, since March 2015 that Government of India (GoI) had rejected 2012 recommendation of the three Interlocutors on Jammu Kashmir (J&K) to transfer power generating projects of in Jammu Kashmir back to the State.
He said, on the contrary, NHPC had asserted before the CIC that negotiations regarding the return of power projects were still on.
There has been a lengthy delay on part of GoI in returning hydel projects to Jammu Kashmir despite promising it in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in July 2000.
In 2010, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at New Delhi appointed a group of three interlocutors - noted journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, Information Commissioner Prof M M Ansari, and trustee of Delhi Policy Group Prof Radha Kumar - to identify the political contours of Kashmir solution and roadmap toward it.
When the three interlocutors presented their report, it recommended return of NHPC-run power projects to the State.
In 2016, NHPC said in 14 years between 2001 and 2015, it had earned Rs 194 billion by selling electricity generated from Jammu Kashmir’s rivers, which has grown more since then.
In July 2000, the State government led by National Conference President Farooq Abdullah had transferred seven hydel projects, Kishan Ganga, Uri-II, Bursar, Sewa-II, Pakal Dul, Nimmo Bazgo and Chutak to NHPC for a period of 10 years for funding, execution and operation.
However, in the MoU singed by the State government and GoI, both had agreed that they would work out a mutually “acceptable methodology” for handing over these projects back to the State.
“Although the media in J&K and elsewhere has been talking about ‘buyback’ of these projects, the MoU only talks about ‘handover’ of these projects to J&K,” Nayak says.
He points out the Delhi High Court’s rejection of claims of Air India to being a third party in its own case in Virender Singh Dabad versus The Executive Director etc WP(C) 2141/2011 to derive him his point on the “third party”.
“In its order issued on October 9, 2017, the CIC merely cited some of my arguments without making any effort to balance them against the NHPC's claim of confidentiality,” the RTI activist said. “The CIC did not rule on the public interest angle and maintained a strange silence about the application of Section 8(2) which authorises it to direct disclosure of even exempt information in the larger public interest.”
He said Section 8(1)(d) also contains a provision for disclosure of this information in the larger public interest.
“CIC did not even examine these clauses before arriving at its decision and instead ruled that disclosure would not serve any public interest,” he said.
NHPC generates more than 40 percent of the hydel power from plants situated in Jammu Kashmir and a bulk of its revenue come from J&K's hydel projects.
While 12 percent of the power generated is supplied to J&K free of cost, the State government is required to buy at commercial rates between 19 to 20 percent of the power so generated by NHPC to meet local demands.