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RTI Exemption Included in Indian Biotech Bill

Source: freedominfo.org

Date: 9 March 2012

A controversial bill in India to ease regulation on biotechnology products includes an exemption from the right to information law.

Debate over the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill (BRAI) primarily concerns issues such as the safety of genetically modified food crops, the proposed RTI exemption also is drawing opposition, including from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.

A recent Greenpeace report analyzes the bill, including the RTI-related provisions.

The bill says that the RTI Act of 2005 would not apply to confidential commercial information submitted under the provisions of the bill. The new regulator that would be created, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) would have the power under Clause 28(2) to disclose confidential information if it is in the public interest and does not harm any person, according to the Greenpeace summary.

Greenpeace said the clause “seems entirely unnecessary as the provisions of the RTI are adequate to provide protection from disclosure of information which is of the national of `commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the third party.’ [Section 8(1)(d) of RTI Act, 2005].”

The analysis, written by Ritwik Dutta, continues: “This exemption clause can be overriden by the relevant competent authority if it finds larger public interest in disclosing the information.”

Greenpeace notes that the Central Information Commission has intervened in the past in a case relating to the Department of Biotechnology to direct the disclosure of the location of certain field trials and of the minutes of a review body.

The analysis also points out that under the bill BRAI would not face deadlines to disclose certain information, such as  decisions to suspend of cancel authorizations.

Objections are also made to the proposed system for public participation.