Two years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that he had asked the Spices Board to set up a separate unit to promote saffron, the PMO has not been able to produce any communication to this effect.
The PMO has told a Delhi-based RTI activist that they did not have any document indicating that such a communication had indeed been sent, either before Modi made the announcement or later.
Modi had travelled to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2014 to dedicate two hydel projects to the people and lay the foundation stone of the Leh-Kargil-Srinagar power transmission system.
At the public function, Modi reached out to the Kashmir valley as well, promising to bring a saffron revolution in J&K.
“I have asked the Spice Board to think and make a special arrangement to develop a separate unit in the board for the development of saffron, developing a world market for it and using modern techniques of farming,” the PM had said.
“This unit will especially cater to the farmers of Jammu and Kashmir and help in saffron cultivation.”
Shortly after this speech, activist Venkatesh Nayak filed an RTI application to see the PM’s advice to the Spices Board. The PMO told him they didn’t have a clue.
“...the office has stated that no such communication/correspondence is available in the records held by this office,” the PMO said.
But an unfazed Nayak persisted.
He filed an appeal with the PMO, this time sending them a link to the PM’s video making the announcement as well. The appellate authority, Krishan Kumar, asked the public information officer to “obtain fresh inputs” in view of the specific and particular details provided by the appellant.
Nayak filed an application with the Spices Board as well to seek a copy of the PM’s advice but did not get the information.
In May 2015, he finally filed an appeal with the transparency watchdog, the central information commission.
The PM’s officers, he argued, had let down the PM.
“The officers of your public authority had a duty to follow-up on the PM’s speech by communicating his promise/assurance to spices board... if not done so prior to the making of the said speech,” Nayak said.
At the CIC’s hearing last month, he made the same point. But a junior PMO official who had come for the hearing told him that it wasn’t his job to follow-up. Curiously, chief information commissioner RK Mathur did not pass any directions. This is a violation of the commission’s rulings that public authorities have to give clear reasons for their decision.
The Spices Board may not have produced the PM’s letter but it did – along with the commerce ministry to which it reports – start work after Modi’s announcement.
The 2015-16 annual report of the commerce ministry said a saffron production and export development agency under the Spices Board had been established. It is headquartered in J&K. The report did not, however, indicate if the agency had been able to help the cause of the saffron cultivators and appeared targeted at post-harvest activities. The report said it would encourage creation of appropriate infrastructure for processing, packing, warehousing, research and also establish quality evaluation laboratory for saffron.
A national saffron mission launched in 2010 to promote modern techniques of farming is already in place.