|Image from here.|
Continuing from my post, last month, on APEDA’s denial of my RTI request for the legal expenses incurred by APEDA in registering and defending ‘basmati’ as a trademark and a GI – I finally received a response to the appeal that I had filed, against the denial of information, with the appellate authority within APEDA.
The reply can be accessed over here. As always, the reply from APEDA was both evasive and dodgy and overturns only a part of the initial order. Contrast this to the candid reply from the appellate officer at the Tea Board.
As I explained in my earlier post, APEDA had initially refused to disclose their legal expenses on ‘Basmati’ since the same would violate the ‘commercial confidence’ of the private law firm which had advised them. This response was coincidentally drafted by the private law firm hired by APEDA to defend the various IP rights in ‘basmati’.
In my appeal, I informed APEDA that all government departments, including its parent ministry, were disclosing the legal expenses incurred by them and that such information was not barred from disclosure on the grounds that it would violate the commercial confidence of a private law firm.
The Appellate Officer replies in the following manner:
“I agree with the CPIO that the terms of the retainer arrangement with K&S Partners constitute commercial confidence within the meaning of Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act. However, balancing the considerations of the commercial confidence and the perceived public interest in the matter, I am of the view that the information given overleaf can be provided:
1) The Aggregate professional fee on account of the registration and protection of Basmati as a Geographic Indication in Indian and foreign jurisdictions;
2) The total number of proceedings in India and other jurisdictions towards which the above costs have been incurred; and
3) The period over which the above costs have been incurred.”
The ‘dodgy-ness’ in the reply is as follows:
(i) If the Appellate Authority is of the opinion that the information was confidential why is he revealing it? What in god’s name does this following reply even mean: “However, balancing the considerations of the commercial confidence and the perceived public interest in the matter,”. If it is confidential, it is confidential and you don’t disclose the information. Why is APEDA going out of its way to come up with such evasive replies?
(ii) I had very specifically asked APEDA for legal expenses on both trademark and G.I. cases pertaining to ‘basmati’. The Appellate Officer however specifically orders the CPIO to give me information pertaining only to the G.I. cases. There is a reason for this: the money spent on registered ‘basmati’ as a G.I. in India is likely to be dwarfed by the expenses on the trademark cases which are fought world-wide.
I am going to send the appellate officer an email point out this flaw and if I still get incomplete information pertaining only to G.I. cases and not trademark cases, I’m going to file a complaint with the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) alleging irregularities at APEDA. There is absolutely no reason for APEDA to give such dodgy replies unless there is something very wrong in the manner in which these funds have been sanctioned.