The Met Department has got a dressing down from the Central Information Commission (CIC) for being too possessive about the weather data it keeps.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) charges a fee for providing detailed data claiming that it earns revenue from selling such information. Even the mighty RTI Act proved futile in the face of such a policy.
Can a government department, which runs as a non-commercial entity, deny free information to the public?
The CIC does not think so.
That’s why it has now asked the IMD to open the doors to its info and review its policies. “Within one month, the IMD must submit in writing what arrangements it can make to provide such data free of cost,” the order states.
The antics of the weather gods are a big money spinner for the Met department. If someone wants to know about the annual rainfall of Delhi in the last five years, he may have to shell out between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 depending on who he is, as the rates are different for government scientists, researchers, engineers, scholars and others.
The reason behind charging a fee is that the IMD officials “have to work hard” to files and get the data.
“The Met department is short-staffed and does not have all the data in digital format, so someone will have to be deployed to dig out the said data and prepare the product,” said Dr Sailesh Nayak, secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, which controls the IMD. So the policy is that the harder you make the officer work, the more you pay. “What’s the harm in charging a fee? If someone really needs it, he will not mind paying for it,” he said.
That’s not all. The weatherman also treats the data as its copyrighted property. “I was asked to sign an undertaking that the data they give me will strictly be for personal use and cannot be posted at any website or made public. But public resources have already been spent in generating the data, then why should people pay a fee?” asked Himanshu Thakkar, who dragged the IMD to the CIC.
“In principle I agree with the argument, but since the IMD has been keeping data for the past 134 years, it would take us a few more years to convert its entire databank digital,” Dr Nayak said.