Exclusive: Centre Stonewalls NDTV's RTI Queries On Drought Measures

Responses to NDTV's RTI queries on drought were marked by lack of answers, obfuscation, and passing of the buck.

Highlights

  • NDTV filed a series of RTI applications in key Central ministries
  • Responses were marked by lack of answers, obfuscation
  • Most ministries transferred queries to other ministries
New Delhi: The severe drought that has gripped the countryside was no flash in the pan; when the monsoon of 2015 recorded poor rainfall, it should have set the alarm bells ringing for policymakers at least a year ago.

So what exactly did the Centre do to tackle the crisis?

To seek answers, NDTV filed a series of Right To Information or RTI applications in key Central ministries meant to tackle drought, framing questions based on statements by ministers and official guidelines on combating drought.

The responses, however, were marked by lack of answers, obfuscation, and passing of the buck.

One set of RTI queries were sent to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, whose minister, Birender Singh Chaudhary, told the Rajya Sabha in March this year that representatives of his ministry have visited right drought-affected states to assess the drinking water scarcity over the past year.

We asked the Ministry what those meetings yielded and what were the steps taken by them to help the states.

The ministry instead transferred our queries to the Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, which has not replied so far.

Another set of RTI queries was filed with the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, whose minister, Uma Bharti, had told us that they had been working with states for the past several months on a drought mitigation plan.

This ministry too, failed to produce any answers, instead forwarding the queries to the Central Water Commission or CWC. The CWC in turn said it does not have the information.

We also approached the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the National Disaster Management Authority or NDMA, the body whose charter promises "prevention, preparedness and mitigation" of disasters in the country, using a tech-driven approach.

The NDMA transferred the RTI query to three of its departments each of whom said that the queries do not pertain to their divisions.

Principal Advisor at the Office of the Supreme Court on the Right to Food case, Biraj Patnaik, said he was not surprised by the Centre's non-responses. "If you look at the orders of the Supreme Court (passed a month ago), not a single one of these orders (on combating drought) have been complied with by the Government of India or the state governments," he said.
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