Where is ‘public’ in PPP?

When the government joins hands with a private company to build, say, a highway which is for public purpose, does the project come under the ambit of the Right to Information Act? Should people be allowed to access information about, for example, the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway or Delhi-Noida Flyway? Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi says yes, while Gajendra Haldea, advisor to the Planning Commission deputy chairman, says no.

Gandhi has said that there is a need for more transparency in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects in the country. “For every PPP project, the government should do three things. Make public the draft of the project; make public the final project and insert a clause in the project agreement saying that the project will be subjected to the RTI Act 2005 meaning that the company implementing the PPP project will act as a public authority as per the definition of the RTI Act,” Gandhi said on Monday (Sep 13, 2010) while speaking at the fifth annual RTI convention in the capital.

He was against the current situation where the information commissions decide on a case to case basis whether a PPP entity is a public authority. “Somebody files a complaint with the commission asking if a particular company is a public authority under the RTI Act. If the commission decides that the company is covered under the RTI Act, then that company approaches the court which stays or upholds the commission’s order. If this continues for every PPP project, it will become difficult,” Gandhi added.

However, Gandhi’s views did not go well with Haldea. “Clarity will come only then they (PPP projects) are tested in a legal forum. Let the courts decide and let the law be clearly stated,’ said Haldea who was chairing the session on ‘RTI and PPP projects’.

“Having any RTI clause in the PPP will not matter. And there cannot a blanket policy for all the PPP projects because every projects is of different nature in terms of cost involved and terms of agreement,” said Haldea, adding that in future, there will be PPP in lot many sectors.

“You cannot escape it. There will be PPP in hospitals and schools. The government’s spending on PPP have increased from Rs 9,00,000 crore in 10th five-year plan to Rs 21,00,000 crore in the 11th plan to an estimated Rs 41,00,000 crore in the 12th plan.”

This appeared on governancenow.com September 13, 2010

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