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Thursday, February 22, 2007

RTI tool for settling scores

Koride Mahesh | TNN , Hyderabad: The potent Right to Information Act is being put to bizarre use by citizens. From settling personal scores to taking on professional rivals, they are using it to gather information from government departments and entities.
One such entity is the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (MCH). The civic body has been flooded with RTI applications seeking information on almost every issue in its domain—building plan sanctions to action taken against builders who deviate from the approved plans to property tax evasion by bureaucrats. In some cases, the RTI is yielding positive results and even forcing MCH officials to crack down on errant builders and firms.
For instance, the MCH slapped a notice on the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU) registrar for illegal construction on the university campus in Masab Tank in November 2006. The corporation acted on an RTI application filed by one K Gopinath, who sought information about illegal construction and a temple on the campus.
In the notice, the corporation said the university took permission for ground plus one floor (G+1) as per the approved plan, but it went ahead and constructed ground and four floors. It also built an auditorium in the central open space on the campus without permission. A temple also came up on the campus. The JNTU approached the Central Information Commissioner complaining that some former employees were using the Act to harass the university.
Similarly, Birla Archaeological and Cultural Research Institution was served a notice by MCH for alleged parking norm violations and sub-leasing government land. Y Ravi Kiran, a former assistant director of the B M Birla Science Centre who was removed from services, chose the RTI route to hit back at the institution. “When I was an employee of the Birla Planetarium, I came to know about several issues about the organisation which were against law. I asked information under the RTI,’’ Ravi Kiran told STOI. The Forum For A Better Hyderabad also put the MCH in the dock and wanted the civic body to furnish a list of under construction buildings which were deviating from the sanctioned plan. When the town planning officials expressed their inability to provide the list, the Forum complained to the State Chief Information Commissioner. The MCH officials were summoned by the Commissioner a week ago and told to provide information free of cost.
Of 190 RTI applications received by the MCH, about 90 were related to the town planning department and the rest were on property tax, health and sanitation and other departments. Another applicant wanted to know property tax defaulters among IAS and IPS officers residing in Prashasan Nagar, while another wanted to know what action was taken on grabbers of government land.
Others sought information on illegal conversion of residential buildings into commercial ones, unauthorised constructions in various locations, list of property getting affected due to road widening, new plans like Bus Rapid Transit System and details of some section officers working in the town planning.
“We are giving info to applicants under the RTI Act. For drawings and copies of permissions, the applicant has to bear the expenses. But some people ask for information without paying even the nominal fee,’’ additional chief city planner and information officer V Narender Rao told ‘STOI’.
Publication: Times Of India Hyderabad; Date:2007 Feb 18; Section:Times City; Page Number 3

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