At SocialCops, we have filed hundreds of Right to Information (RTI) requests with the national and state governments. The Ministry of Earth Sciences’ response to our RTI request stood out from the stack of responses we receive. Here’s why.
Of our most recent 50 RTI responses, 34 notified us that our application was transferred or dismissed. Most of the time, our requests are dismissed because the requested data is not available or is deemed sensitive. However, the most interesting responses are where organizations object to the formatting of our requests, calling them too creative or “questionery”.
A state directorate gave one of the most lengthy explanations for why it would not answer our request: “The information sought for by you is questionery and creative… The Public Information Officer is also not required to furnish information which require drawing of inference and/or making of assumptions; or to interpret information; or to solve the problems raised by the applicants; or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions… Further the information sought for is very old and lengthy, therefore, you are advised to inspect the relevant record in our office….” In short, the Directorate has the data that we requested, but they object to our request’s format. For the record, we were asking about the quantity of food allocated under PDS.
Of our most recent 50 responses, 5 claimed that the data was available, but it had to be paid for before it could be sent from the relevant government office. Paying for RTI data makes sense when the requested record is long. The national government sets a rate of 2 rupees per page for these situations. However, we have been asked to pay for small amounts of data. One RTI response requested a 6 rupee payment for its 3 pages of data. It suggested that we could submit 6 rupees in cash, demand draft, pay order, or Indian postal order.
Meanwhile, other responses delayed the RTI process by insisting that payment and document pickup could only be done in person. For example, one RTI asked that a demand draft for 360 rupees be submitted at its Thiruvananthapuram office in exchange for 180 pages of data. This is an unnecessary request in an age where paying online and mailing documents are simple and fast.
Out of our most recent 50 RTI responses, 11 contained data. However, 6 of those responses only included cursory or incomplete data, while 5 took the time to submit a complete record of relevant data.
Our RTI experience with the Ministry of Earth Sciences
Because of our past experience with RTIs, we were pleasantly surprised by the reply from the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) to our RTI request. We asked for the total expenditure on climate change research in 2014-15, and the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ priorities and programs for combating climate change. While other ministries might have dismissed our application as too lengthy or vague, the Ministry of Earth Sciences replied with a thoughtful two-page response outlining its priorities.
MoES explained the focus of their work on climate change: “One of the top priorities…to combat climate change is to develop in-house capability in the country to understand and address all aspects concerning the Science of Climate Change. Keeping this priority, the MoES established the Centre for Climate Change Research (CCCR) at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), which is mandated to carry out research on global and regional climate change with particular focus on the Indian climate and the monsoons.”
According to MoES’ letter, the CCCR has nine main objectives:
- Identifying and exploring research to understand the earth’s climate system
- Enhancing knowledge on regional climate change
- Understanding the response of biogeochemical interactions to environmental change
- Understanding the impact of global warming on phenomena like the monsoon
- Understanding the atmosphere-climate interaction through model simulations and observations
- Understanding past climate and rainfall variations through various proxies like tree rings and coral
- Establishing Eddy Covariance flux towers to measure and quantify atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases
- Creating information reservoirs for better assessment of changes and impacts
- Building linkages with national and international research groups
To achieve these objectives, the CCCR has undertaken four major research and development projects:
- Development of IITM’s in-house Earth System Model (ESM), the first of its kind in India
- Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) project for South Asia
- Paleoclimate program to reconstruct past climate variability in the Indian subcontinent
- Fluxnet project to estimate sources and sinks of CO2 across India.
(All objectives and projects paraphrased and shortened from MoES RTI response.)
The Ministry has even published its response online. The full RTI response is available here.
From everyone at SocialCops, thanks to the Ministry of Earth Sciences for doing their part in making RTIs effective and productive!