Finally, after years of agony that we have experienced while attempting to access information related to the grant of geographical indications in India, the Controller General Chaitanya Prasad has issued a public notice informing the general public that all public records pertaining to the G.I. Registry have now been made available on the website of the G.I. Registry. I have checked the new website and I kid you not, my eyes actually welled up with tears of joy when I saw the excellent job done by the G.I. Registry. You can actually access all records, unlike other government projects which do a terrible job with digitization of records. This one little step by the G.I. Registry comes as a huge relief, at least for us at SpicyIP because the G.I. Registry has been the last black-hole of inaccessible information.
Last year, Sumathi and I had filed a series of Right To Information applications seeking information related to the Basmati G.I. from APEDA (the govt. agency which has filed an application for the same) and Darjeeling Tea G.I.
APEDA, flat out denied our request, on the grounds that some files were missing and that other files could not be provided to us because the 'basmati' case was sub-judice. We had filed an appeal at the time informing APEDA that sub-judice was no grounds to retain documents. Faced with precedents of the Central Information Commission on the point, APEDA introduced new grounds to deny us information at the appellate stage. The other grounds mentioned in APEDA's reply, as explained by Sumathi in one of her posts are as follows:
" 1. APEDA also claimed that I had failed to demonstrate any "public interest" that warranted the disclosure of such information. (This is an issue that has come up time and again in my encounters of the RTI kind, and appears to be a safe harbour defence for government. I am tempted to advise that future information seekers should demonstrate "public interest" in their RTI application itself, if only as a pre-emptive measure. Note that nothing in RTI practice or rules requires that public interest be demonstrated at the time of making an application, or indeed defending a request.) APEDA added that the information was held in fiduciary relationship with third parties.
The icing on the cake, in my opinion, was this line that had my eyes popping out: "disclosure of such information could lead to unwarranted public debate which in turn could prejudice or unduly influence the outcome of these proceedings." The last time I checked we were proud residents of a democracy, where at least we enjoyed a semblance of free speech. Was I wrong?"
APEDA's actions at the time were a blatant abuse of power and something which I will remember for a very long time to come. There are some minimum courtesies that you expect from government officers rejecting information under the RTI Act and APEDA along with its lawyers broke each and every rule. For instance, they lied to us about a missing file but the moment we asked them whether they had filed a police complaint as required by the law, they backtracked and suddenly found the file.
Similarly, when we filed a RTI application with the G.I. Registry, they agreed to give us information but at the cost of Rs. 10 per page instead of the Rs. 2 per page mandated by the R.T.I. rules. When we informed the G.I. Registry about the Rs. 2 rule, they refused to change their mind. Paying Rs. 10 per page was a problem for us because we were asking for more than a thousand pages in information and we simply didn't have money to pay Rs. 10 per page. At the time, we were faced with a bill of close to Rs. 20,000.
When we appealed, Dr. Kardam who was the appellate officer, threw a new googly our way - out of the blue, he informed us that the RTI Act did not even apply! We asked him to review the decision since he had earlier informed us that the RTI Act did apply to information held by the patent office. He refused. The pains through which Kardam put himself through to deny us this information caught us by surprise because there is no government office which has gone to such lengths to hold back information pertaining to another public body i.e. APEDA.
Sumathi did a wonderful post highlighting our troubles with both offices over here.
So today when the Controller General makes available all information related to the G.I. records I'm a very, very happy man. As I had discussed earlier on this blog, the G.I. Registry has been entertaining and granting some ridiculous G.I.s and it is time for us to begin a debate on improving the process.