Though the central information commission and the Bombay high court have both reiterated that public safety issues must be given precedence, the department of atomic energy (DAE) continues to reject RTI applications seeking information on public safety, citing this information as being of “strategic importance”.

In response to an application filed by DNA in October seeking information on the ground water contamination in areas close to a nuclear fuel complex, the DAE said: “The information on safety issues in respect of NFC, Hyderabad is of strategic importance.”

Yet another RTI application filed with nuclear regulator Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) on the same subject was rejected on the same ground. “The trend of rejecting is similar across all the nuclear establishments in the country,” said Arul Doss, a nuclear activist from Chennai who has filed several RTI applications with various nuclear power plants across the country.

In April 2012, the chief information commission (CIC) pulled up the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) for rejecting an application seeking copies of a safety evaluation report of the Koodankulam reactors. The public information officer (PIO) said the security, strategic and scientific interests of the state would be compromised by the disclosure, but was unable to justify such reasoning, said the CIC order.

The CIC directed the PIO to furnish the information to the applicant and place it on its website before May 30, 2012. “Public authority’s [NPCIL] unwillingness to be transparent is likely to give citizens an impression that most decisions are taken in furtherance of corruption resulting in a serious trust deficit,” said the order.

As far back as 1996, hearing a PIL seeking disclosure regarding 90 issues pertaining to nuclear power plants highlighted by the AERB, the Bombay high court said information on safety violations cannot be denied to the public. Despite this order, DAE has been denying information on public safety.

NPCIL took more than three months to furnish information on safety issues pertaining to the power plant at Tarapore. This correspondent had to send at least eight e-mails besides several phone calls to get the information.

There are other cases where the DAE refused to part with information saying such records do not exist. Replying to an application seeking information on action taken by the nuclear regulator on a report prepared by former AERB chairman A Gopalakrishnan highlighting nuclear safety violations by nuclear power plants, the AERB on September 28, 2012, said it does not have any information on this.

This is despite court records that clearly suggest that DAE agreed in the Bombay high court to constitute a committee to look into the 90 nuclear safety violations raised in the report. Finally, after pursuing the matter with higher authorities, the information was provided to DNA.

“It is relevant to point out that the nuclear power plants are in the civilian sector and not in the defence sector. Therefore, the DAE’s argument that information about nuclear power plants cannot be furnished is flawed,” said BK Subbarao, a nuclear scientist.

DAE spokesperson SK Malhotra did not respond to queries sent by DNA to his official email id.

Dr Sreeramappa Chinnappa, an employee of NPCIL, has filed several RTI applications over the last couple of years seeking information about public health. In his letter, dated August 27, 2012, to the NPCIL chairman and managing director, Chinnappa said: “In spite of my repeated request, NPCIL is delaying and refusing to provide information. I have not received any communication either from CPIO or from Appellate Authority as per RTI Act time frame.”