A Nizamabad-based independent journalist and RTI activist Rajesh Serupally was dumbfounded when the Telangana State Development Planning Society (TSDPS) asked him to pay a whopping fee of over Rs 20 lakh for revealing rainfall data under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Despite guidelines stating that tax is not applicable to RTI replies, the bill given to Rajesh also included Goods and Services Tax (GST) of Rs 3 lakh.
B Kondal Reddy, secretary of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, an umbrella association of NGOs and intellectuals working in agricultural issues was quoted by The Times of India as saying, "A Nizamabad-based freelance researcher, S Rajesh, had filed the RTI with Telangana State Development Planning Society for rainfall data from each automatic weather station between 1 June, 2018 and 31 May, 2019, for Nizamabad district. The information would be useful to farmers who are unable to get weather-based crop insurance claims cleared by insurance companies. The rules state that an insurance claim would be cleared based on number of days of rainfall."
Nizamabad has a total of 41 Automatic Weather Stations (AWS).
In its reply to the RTI query, the government organisation sought an amount of Rs 3,500 to receive data for one station, taking the bill to over Rs 17 lakh and an additional GST charge, thereby totaling to over Rs 20 lakh.
The RTI activist was working on a story related to rainfall deficit in Nizamabad and the impact it had on both agriculture and the farmers.
Rajesh was forced to file an RTI query after the Nizamabad Chief Planning Officer (CPO) failed to provide the data.
The News Minute reported that the query was then directed to Telangana State Development Planning Society, who has been responsible for monitoring the weather and providing all rainfall related data.
In its reply on 30 July, the department asked Rajesh to shell out Rs 20.30 lakh to avail the information.
The News Minute quoted Rajesh as saying, "I was completely shocked!," adding, "What was more bizarre was that the department even including a GST charge of Rs 3 lakh. I honestly didn’t know how to react to it."
Meanwhile, A Sudarshan Reddy, TSDPS director in-charge, said that they have a policy of collecting data charges for sharing information with outsiders.
The Times of India quoted Reddy as saying, "Manual rain gauge station data is available online. TSDPS has set up automatic weather stations spending crores of rupees. Insurance companies and bankers buy data from us. Anyone in the guise of a common man can buy and use the data for other purposes. The Rs 20.31 lakh bill is not printing charges. If we give the information for Rs 10 under RTI Act, would insurance companies and bankers accept it? We will give public reports under RTI, but not this data."
Updated Date: Aug 17, 2019 18:14:45 IST