Srinagar: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has refused to order the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to give details of negotiations on return of hydel projects it operates in Jammu and Kashmir.
Instead, an RTI reply has revealed, the CIC has treated the NHPC – the Respondent in the RTI applicant’s second appeal – as a “third party”.
“… (CIC) held that information about the negotiations would fall under the category of ‘commercial confidence’ under Section 8(1)(d) of The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act),” the reply has said.
The NHPC operates several power projects in Jammu and Kashmir and there have been consistent appeals and requests by state governments for their return.
The PDP-BJP government had prepared an Agenda for Alliance in which the politically divergent parties had agreed to “form the modalities and seek their return (of power projects) from NHPC”. However, the Modi-led government in New Delhi has rejected the request so far.
In 2010, a three-member team of interlocutors appointed by the then Congress government had recommended “transfer of central sector power generating projects to the state”, yet nothing happened.
The RTI reply did say, “NHPC submitted before the CIC that the negotiations (with the state government) are still going on.”
It may be recollected that figures given by the NHPC in 2015 under the RTI Act showed that it earned more than Rs 194 billion (almost USD 3 billion at current exchange rates) by selling electricity generated from the rivers of J&K between 2001-2015.
The NHPC had also disclosed a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that the JK government entered into with the Government of India in July 2000. Then chief minister Farooq Abdullah had signed it while union power minister PR Kumaramangalam was the signatory for the Government of India.
“The MoU clearly states that seven hydel projects, namely Kishanganga, Uri-II, Bursar, Sewa-II, Pakal Dul, Nimmo Bazgo and Chutak in J&K would be transferred to NHPC for a period of 10 years for funding, execution and operation. Both the J&K government and Government of India agreed in the MoU that they would work out a mutually ‘acceptable methodology’ for handing over these projects back to J&K,” the RTI reply said.
“The media (in J&K and elsewhere) had been talking about ‘buyback’ of these projects, but the MoU only talks about ‘handover’ of these projects to J&K,” the RTI revealed.
The RTI applicant argued that the reply was not detailed and then the first appellate authority (FAA) of NHPC gave a more detailed order, saying that the NHPC being a listed company, the information sought was sensitive and “disclosure would lead to unwanted speculations and confusion among shareholders” and also “affect the commercial confidence” of NHPC.
Currently, power sector officials claim that the state government is “well within in its capacity” to take over the NHPC-run power projects.
“Given the depreciated cost of the power projects, the state government can easily take over them,” said an official, wishing to remain anonymous. “It only needs a go-ahead from the GoI,” he said.
Explaining further, he said, “Uri-I was constructed at Rs 3375 crore but since it was commissioned in 1997-87, the NHPC has recovered around Rs 1500 crore and the current value of the power project is Rs 1500 crore, which is quite affordable for the state government.”
The RTI applicant, Venkatesh Nayak, said that after a year when the CIC heard his arguments, he submitted a set of arguments stating that the information sought was related to people’s right to water which is an internationally recognised basic human right.
“I handed over a copy of the General Comment of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) – the treaty monitoring such rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” he said.
In 2002, the CESCR recognised every human being’s right to access information about water issues as an essential component of the basic human right to water, guaranteed under the Covenant. The right to electricity is not yet an internationally recognised basic human right. “So, I had to use the right to water as the basis of my arguments. India acceded to the ICESCR in 1979 and the rights enumerated in it are recognised under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 [Sections 2(d) and 2(f)]. India is duty bound to give effect to these rights, including the right to access information about water, I argued at the hearing,” Nayak said.
“In its order issued on 9th October, 2017, the CIC merely cited some of my arguments without making any effort to balance them against the NHPC’s claim of confidentiality,” he said, “Instead, the CIC ruled that disclosure would not serve any public interest!”