Kerala’s Finance Minister, K. M. Mani on Tuesday announced the setting up of an IPR Academy in the state. The government also earmarked funds for the academy in the previous budget, recalled the Minister. This announcement comes within a week after Business Line criticized the government for the delay in constituting the academy. The idea of this first-of-its-kind academy in India for protection of IPR surfaced four years ago in Governor, Mr. R. L. Bhatia’s speech before the House on February 20, 2008.
The academy is part of Kerala government’s initiative to harness the potential of traditional knowledge and biodiversity. Readers would recollect that Kerala is also the first state in the country to announce a concrete policy for protecting IPR in 2008. Pursuant to this policy, the government on June 3, 2008 constituted a Supervisory Council on Intellectual Property (SCIP) to administer the proposed Kerala Traditional Knowledge Authority (KTKA) and State Bio-diversity Board (SBB).
RTI Request on Proposals Denied
Barring the Minister’s announcement, unfortunately, there is no information on the proposed academy. Incidentally, the Law Department turned down two RTI requests from activists, Dr. G.S. Lekha and Mr. S. Prashanth in 2009, enquiring about the status of the academy.
In one such application filed in January 2009, the applicant sought information on the mandate and structure of the academy. The PIO in his reply expressed his inability to provide the information as the details were yet to be finalized. The applicants in another letter clarified that the application seeks information as per the existing file with the Department and not the approved proposal. The PIO, however, has not bothered to reply to the clarification.
The applicants filed another application in June 2009 seeking inspection of the file relating to academy with the Department. The PIO, however, denied inspection citing Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act on the ground that the proposals were being deliberated at several levels. As per Section 8(1)(i), the PIO can withhold information marked as ‘cabinet papers’ on which deliberations of Ministers are still in progress. This information, however, has to be made public once the decision has been taken or the matter is complete. The applicants preferred a complaint in both the applications in 2009 before the State Chief Information Commissioner for subverting the goals of transparency and accountability under the Act by denying information. Copy of the complaint can be accessed from here.
The Governor’s announcement in 2008 appears to have been made without much ground work for setting up the academy. The is terrible that the government had no clarity on the need and purpose for establishing such institution before the announcement. At least with the Minister’s statement, I think the matter can be deemed as decided and any request for inspection of the file should be allowed.
P.S. I would like to thank Mr. Praveen Raj, Scientist at CSIR-NIIST, for bringing this to our attention.