Food for thought
The Assam government has long been at loggerheads with the Centre over the issue of oil royalty. Dispur has been claiming that the State has been deprived of Rs 10,000 crore since it is not getting oil royalty at updated rates, which should have been calculated before (not after) the ONGC and OIL sell the oil to oil marketing companies at highly discounted prices. After remaining silent for many years over the issue, the Assam government suddenly woke up after Gujarat moved the Supreme Court against ONGC and wrested updated rates in 2014. With change of government at the Centre, the conflict between New Delhi and Dispur has taken on a strident political tone. But is the State government at all forthcoming about the royalty it has been receiving from the oil producing PSUs over the years, and how that money has been used? Recently, two advocates revealed at a press conference in Jorhat that an RTI query was sent to the ONGC authority — which furnished the information on 6th February this year that in the period 2001-16, oil royalty amounting to Rs 5,362 crore has been paid to the Assam government. Interestingly, another RTI query was sent by the same applicant to Dispur, asking how much oil royalty the State government has received from the ONGC in 2001-16. This second RTI application is still making the rounds of officialdom, moving from Fince to Mines and Minerals as well as other departments. This is how governments are making an utter mockery of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. RTI queries are bounced back and forth as each department passes the buck. Even if some department is filly cornered, it couches its reply in such terms that no meaningful information can be drawn from it. When even legal practitioners fail to extract information from the governmental maze under the RTI law and are forced to air their frustrations to the media, it is easy to guess how other RTI applicants will fare. So in any dispute of public character like the oil royalty issue, the common man has practically no means to find out which side is speaking the truth. It is bad enough that untruths are bandied about for political gain; what is worse is that half-truths are cynically let loose to mislead people.