After Firstpost report on bullet train project, Maharashtra govt suspends officer who responded to RTI query

The response to the RTI query had revealed that the committee formed to study the bullet train project had not met even once before clearing the project.

Parth MN December 30, 2018 11:45:30 IST
After Firstpost report on bullet train project, Maharashtra govt suspends officer who responded to RTI query

The Maharashtra government has suspended an information officer for allegedly providing "incorrect information" under the Right to Information Act. Sarangkumar Patil had provided documents to RTI activist Jeetendra Ghadge, which had revealed that Devendra Fadnavis government had not followed the due procedure before clearing the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.

The Home Department of Maharashtra will now conduct an inquiry against Patil, in the first instance of an information officer being suspended for allegedly providing wrong information under the RTI Act.

On Tuesday, 25 December, Firstpost had reported that documents obtained by Ghadge had revealed that a Fadnavis-led panel had cleared the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project without meeting even once.

After Firstpost report on bullet train project Maharashtra govt suspends officer who responded to RTI query

File image of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

On 27 February, 2017, the state home department had issued a circular noting the formation of the subcommittee — to be headed by Fadnavis — to conduct an "in-depth study" of the bullet train project. More than six months later, on 12 September, 2017, the department had issued another circular approving the project.

However, the response to the RTI query, which Patil sent to the activist, revealed that the subcommittee had not held a single meeting, let alone conducted an in-depth study. "You have sought information on the meetings of the cabinet subcommittee. So far, not even one meeting has been held," read the reply.

The revelation embarrassed the Maharashtra government. It even suggested that the state may not have had a say in the bullet train project, considering that it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project.

However, after Firstpost published the report, the Maharashtra government claimed that the subcommittee did, indeed, hold meetings and brief the chief minister. Responding to Mumbai Mirror, which had also published the story, Fadnavis had said that "the information is wrong".

"Selective information was asked under the RTI Act. The state cabinet made decision. The committee had held meetings," he said, though he did not share any details of the meetings. If the meetings did happen, details of when and how many there were and what transpired at them remains ambiguous.

RTI activist Ghadge said he was "shocked" by Patil's suspension and believes that he had provided the correct information. "He had given the information available in the file," he said. "I had also inspected the file thoroughly, but I did not get any information on any meetings conducted by the subcommittee. There was no correspondence, minutes or report of the subcommittee meeting. 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."

This correspondent tried to reach Fadnavis, but he did not respond to text messages, neither did Sunil Porwal, Assistant Chief Secretary of the Home Department of Maharashtra.

Government sources have claimed that Patil did not consult any seniors before responding to Ghadge's RTI query and providing wrong information.

Earlier, Diwakar Raote, Maharashtra transport minister and a supposed member of the subcommittee formed to look into the bullet train project, had claimed to have no clue about the panel.

"My name may be there (on the list of members of the panel), but I have no clue about it. I don't know what this committee is, and I do not recall attending anything pertaining to it," he said, adding that he was not looking into the bullet train, the chief minister was.

This correspondent, once again, contacted Raote to ask whether it could be possible that the subcommittee of four had held meetings without him knowing about them, but he said, "The respected chief minister has already responded. It would not be right for a minister to comment after the chief minister's response."

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