Public Private Partnership Project documents becoming public in India

5 June 2014

By Venkatesh Nayak

Nayak is Programme Coordinator of the Access to Information Programme at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has taken the progressive step of uploading concession agreements and progress reports about the Pubic Private Partnership projects (PPPs) under its jurisdiction through the Internet. The links to project specific websites containing this information may be accessed at: http://www.nhai.org.in/

Readers may remember my email alert sent out last year about guidelines issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) for improving compliance with regard to proactive disclosure obligations of public authorities under Section 4(1)(b) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. These guidelines were put together by a Task Force comprising representatives of Government and civil society organisations across the country (1st attachment). Para 1.2 of these guidelines require disclosure of concessions agreements, maintenance manuals, all payments made, tolls collected and a wealth of other information about PPPs without waiting for any individual to make a formal request. Along with several transparency advocates, CHRI served as a member of this Task Force set up by the DoPT in 2011.

I thank Mr. Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Co-Convenor, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)  for bringing the Press Release about this development to my notice. Readers may access the press release at: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=105379

As civil society advocates of transparency we have three major tasks on our hands now:

1) Making sense of the complex terminology of the concession agreements and measuring the progress made against what was initially agreed to in each PPP project in order to monitor and evaluate these projects.

2) Demanding similar levels of transparency in the initiation and the working of PPPs in other sectors and

3) Ensuring that Information Commissions pay serious attention to this latest development while deciding appeals and complaints about lack of transparency in PPP projects.

Please note that this transparency has become possible without taking the difficult route of demanding that private entities running PPPs be declared public authorities under the RTI Act. Where private entities running PPPs qualify to be declared public authorities, every effort must be made to have them so declared. Where such a declaration cannot be made, government departments and other public authorities overseeing the PPPs may be compelled to disclose information about such projects in a timely and routine manner.

I am currently before the Central Information Commission (CIC) demanding the disclosure of a concession agreement relating to a Port project in Puducherry. Arguments have been completed and the CIC’s decision is awaited in this two and a half year-old case. I will keep you posted about further developments.

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