India's Information Commission directs Environment Ministry to Improve transparency
The Central Information Commission (CIC) on 18 January 2012 directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to place information relating to environmental approval process on its website in a time bound manner. The order passed by Sailesh Gandhi, Information Commissioner, came in response to a complaint filed by Shibani Ghosh of The Access Initiative India Coalition (TAI India) The Complaint stated that certain categories of information should be made available on the website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and should not require filing of an application under the Right to Information Act 2005. Another major grievance pointed out in the Complaint was that the information on the website are generally not accessible after office hours and on holidays ! The Commission has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to make the following information about projects seeking environmental approval available on its website from 01 April 2012- · Copies of applications and related documents submitted by the Project Proponent while seeking prior environmental clearance, particularly the Form 1/ Form 1A. · Additional information submitted to the Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests by the Project proponent as well as reports/studies commissioned by the Expert Appraisal Committees. · Six-monthly compliance reports that are to be submitted to the Ministry by the project proponent. · Reports of committees which may have been constituted to monitor the compliance of conditions by the project proponent. · Copies of additional studies/reports stipulated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests such as mitigation plans have to be done after the clearance has been granted. The Commission has also directed the Ministry to issue an order by 15 February 2012 to all State Pollution Control Boards to ensure that the public hearing proceedings are displayed regularly on their websites within seven days of the issue of the minutes of the Public Hearing. Site inspection and monitoring reports available with the regional offices of the Ministry have to be uploaded on their websites by 1 June 2012. When asked about why the website of the Ministry was not accessible after office hours, a Ministry official said that the server which hosts its website is functional only from 8 am to 8 pm on weekdays, and for half a day on Saturdays. According to the official the position will change in 3 months once the National Informatics Centre (NIC) hosts the Ministry’s website.