Info Officer Suspended After RTI Shows Fadnavis-led Panel Cleared Bullet Train Project Without Meeting

Mumbai: The Maharashtra government has suspended an information officer after he revealed in an RTI query that the Devendra Fadnavis administration had not followed due procedure before clearing the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.

In his reply to an RTI application filed by activist Jeetendra Ghadge, Sarangkumar Patil had said that a Fadnavis-led committee formed to study the impact of the high-speed rail corridor had cleared the project without meeting even once.

The RTI reply had caused a major embarrassment to the BJP and was met by quick denials from ministers in the state as it led to suggestions that the state did not have any say in approving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project.

Now, Patil finds himself suspended for allegedly providing “incorrect information” and faces an inquiry by the home department of Maharashtra. This is the first instance of an information officer being suspended for allegedly providing wrong information under the RTI Act.

The RTI reply had stated that on February 27, 2017, the state home department had formed a subcommittee — to be headed by Fadnavis — to conduct an “in-depth study” of the bullet train project. On September 12 of that year, the project was approved by this committee.

However, in these six months, the special committee, did not even meet once, let alone conduct an “in-depth study” of the project, according to the RTI reply given by Patil. “You have sought information on the meetings of the cabinet subcommittee. So far, not even one meeting has been held,” read the reply.

The bullet train corridor from Mumbai to Ahmedabad would be an elevated 508-km high-speed rail line meant to benefit diamond merchants, textile traders and other professionals shuttling between the two cities. The project is slated to cost Rs 1.1 lakh crore, of which the Japan International Cooperation Agency is slated to fund Rs 88,000 crore at an interest rate of 0.1%.

The project has faced stiff opposition from farmers and land owners in both Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The Maharashtra government, however, has claimed that the subcommittee did indeed hold meetings and briefed the chief minister. The clarification came after News18’s sister website Firstpost published a report on the RTI reply.

Fadnavis categorically stated that the information was wrong. “Selective information was asked under the RTI Act. The state cabinet made the decision. The committee had held meetings,” he told a daily, but did not share any details of the meetings.

If the meetings did happen, details of when, how many and what transpired at them remain ambiguous.

RTI activist Ghadge said he was “shocked” by Patil’s suspension and believes that he had provided the correct information. “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,” he said.

Fadnavis and officials of the home department of Maharashtra were unavailable for comments.

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