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Terror on research through RTI not welcome

Terror on research through RTI not welcome
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A JNU scholar Sapna Chaurasiya and Pandit S Khillare School of Environmental science did research on “Assessment of the concentration, distribution,...

A JNU scholar Sapna Chaurasiya and Pandit S Khillare School of Environmental science did research on “Assessment of the concentration, distribution, and health risk of organochlorine pesticides in Momordica Charantia grown in Periurban region of Delhi, India” They wrote: “The present study was conducted to evaluate the concentration levels of different organochloring pesticides (OCPs) in medicinally important vegetable Momordica charantia in periurban region of Delhi, India.

There is a major significance of the study concerning OCP levels in M. charantia vegetable because it is one of the most grown Cucurbitaceae vegetables in India owning mainly to its anto-diabetic potential and is reported to accumulate greater amount of organic pollutants. Vegetables sampling programme was conducted at two agricultural sites in summer, 2011.

A total of twenty different OCPs were quantified using has chromatography (GC) assemble with electron capture detector (ECD). The ∑OCPs concentrations ranged between 25.5 and 84.3 ng/g in the analyzed samples.

The Concentration of ∑HCH (4.6-55.9 ng/g) was found to be much higher than ∑DDT (2.0-15.1 ng/g) indicating thereby continued use if HCH in the studied area even after its ban for agricultural purposes. Percentage distribution of HCH-isomers showing the pattern: -HCH>∑-HCH>y-HCH in all samples.

However, PP- DDT contributed highest among three isomers (p,p’-DDT, p,p’-DDD and p,p’-DDE) at both the sites. Ratio of _/u-HCHC showed value greater than 1.0 for all samples suggesting the application of technical-HCH in the studied area. ∑HCHC and heptachlor residues recorded in these vegetables samples exceeded the maximum residue levels (MRLs) set forth by the European Commission (2009).

However, non-cancerous health risk calculated via ingestion exposure demonstrated that hazard quotient (HQ) value was below 1.0 (2.59E-05 to 3.02E-02) for OCPs”.

Challenging the above prepositions a young woman claiming to be an independent journalist made following demands, most of which were answered by Mr P S Khillare as follows:

Q. Date of beginning and date of completion of the residues analysis narrated in the news item.
A. Period of residue analysis: June-July 2011.

Q. Particulars of technical specification of the instruments used for residue analysis (including minimum detection limit).
A. Sample analysis was performed using shimadzu GC 2010 with ECD. Technical specification of the instruments is available on Shimadzu website.

Q. Technical grade of various pesticides obtained their purity, source and date of supply etc. Give photocopy of the purity standard as given by the supplier.
A. Pesticide standard mixture EPA 8081, Purity range 98.4-99.9 %, suppliers-sigma Aldrich Chemicals Pvt. Ltd.

Q. Reading taken in respect of each sample.
A. Information cannot be provided as it is related to Ph.D. thesis; the degree is yet to be awarded.

Q. Limit of quantification and details of determination thereof.
A. Information cannot be provided as it is related to Ph.D thesis.

Q. Calibration and related data, including Linear Calibration Range.
A. Calibration has been done by external calibration method. Related data cannot be provided as it is related to Ph.D. thesis

Q. Confirmatory tests for validating data for each sample.
A. Confirmatory test was not a mandatory requirement for the research work.

Q. Details of method of analysis of samples.
A. USEPA method 8081.

Q. Reading related to “regent blank” along with chromatograms thereof.
A. Information cannot be provided as it is related to Ph.D. thesis.

Q. Details of confirmatory tests done for residues in all samples.
A. Not a mandatory requirement for the work.

Q. Give copies of chromatograms showing presence/absences of pesticide residues in all samples analysed.
A. Information cannot be provided as it is related to Ph.D. thesis.

Q. Give details of determination of accuracy, precision and sensitivity limit of the method used.
A. Information cannot be provided as it is related to Ph D thesis.

Q. Give the contact addresses of the chemists who analyzed the samples for pesticides residues.
A. Analysis was done at the advanced instrumentation Research Facility of the University.

Q. Give copies of the laboratory log book as maintained during this analysis.
A. Usage certificate is attached Alleging ‘information’ was not furnished, Appellant filed a complaint before CIC. She also filed first appeal. PIO and Dean contended questions could not be answered under the RTI Act.

A large set of research data has been created by scholar Ms Sapna Chaourasiya for her Ph.D. work under the supervision of Prof Khillare, and part of the data has been used for two international peer reviewed research publications. PIO told the Commission that appellant filed seven RTI applications raising several questions related to these two publications.

The researcher has evaluated the concentration levels of different organochloring pesticides (OCPs) in medicinally important vegetables and analysed their impact. The university professor, his scholar and research team, in fact, are educating the people with their research findings against overuse of pesticides. If this concept reaches people, and properly understood, farmers might move towards agriculture without harmful pesticides.

How can a corporate business entity’s representative, claiming to be a journalist, demand cross-examination-type-questions; is it not abuse of the RTI Act? The information existing or held by the public authority can be accessed to under this law.

Definition of ‘information’ under the RTI Act does not include ‘answers’ to such grilling ‘questions. The university and the scholar, who are serving the interests of the people with the help of infrastructure generated by the tax payers’ money, have no duty to answer any cross examination on her conclusions either to manufacturers of pesticides or their agents.

The thesis was result of research after candidate duly admitted into the programme, supervised by a professor, partly presented to the committee concerned, evaluated by experts, besides successfully defended in viva voce and it should not be subjected to any further scrutiny by anybody.

If research based criticism is made, there is no defamation. Fair comment is a universally accepted defence to the charge of defamation and that is part of freedom of speech and expression. In a similar attempt, the CCFI’s contention of ‘defamation’ was rejected by Hon’ble Delhi High Court in another case against CCFI.

The pesticide makers have duty to give information to the farmers and the people in general who consume the farm produce about how harmful or harmless the usage of pesticide is. It is called ‘product liability’ and right to information guaranteed under consumer rights worldwide, more specifically under the Consumer Protection Act, 1985 in India. They cannot terrorise the researchers and academic institutions.

The RTI Act is meant to promote public interest and public-interest-based research. It cannot encourage the attempt to use the RTI to raise such harassing questions, frightening the researchers, demoralising the research supervisors and prevent Jawaharlal Nehru University from its fearless pursuit of independent research. Universities need to be shielded in public interest from such motivated attacks.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed to every citizen to express their opinions, studies and researches or experiments. Even if some of their findings are wrong, it is not a crime. Anyone is free to come up with correct prepositions. That freedom is also guaranteed. If the appellant has enough proof, she can also take fund from the agencies which she is representing and spell out her research products.

Her data also shall be protected from RTI abusers. The Commission cannot permit such strategies of misusing the RTI to silence critiques and researchers and obstructing the academic activities of the Universities such as JNU.

The Commission recorded its appreciation for the independent research and academic honesty in responding to certain questions of applicant, though appellant represented pesticide manufacturers, and recommended scholars to continue their good job in the interest of nation, food safety and environment.

The university was also recommended to publish the research work and also to get it translated into regional languages to explain farmers how the usage of pesticide is harmful to life and environment. Their research results should help the community to secure environment and public health.

(Based on the decision in case CIC/SA/A/2016/000028 on 20.9.2016)

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