Letter to the State Chief Information Commissioner by a RTI activist regarding an order
Shri Ratnakar Gaikwad,
State Chief Information Commissioner,
Government of Maharashtra
New Administrative Building,
Ref: Your Order dated 21 Nov. 2013 regarding furnishing of Internal Plans under RTI Act 2005.
We appreciate the above-mentioned order issued by you to clarify and interpret better your earlier order of 26 Sept. 2013, but have to express our objections to the restrictions imposed in point no. 7 whereby the Public Authority can deny “internal layout of the rooms in the building and interiors and internal detailing in the building”.
Our objections are based on the following contentions:
1. The IOD/CC conditions/rule provide for display of the plans at site, which means they are already and shall be in the public domain once approved and hence need to be provided subsequently to any person requiring the same. The internal layout drawings are needed to see whether the construction is in conformity with the approved drawings and also to ascertain that the rooms provided are of the right measurements and orientation as per DC rules and Municipal norms. This will also be necessary to check that there has been no amalgamation of flats, no internal staircases erected between flats, no walls shifted, no toilets/washrooms/kitchen are erected etc and also to get a proper “situation reading” of the entire floor.
2. In order to carry out alterations in flats/offices/factories/apartments at any time, the internal layout drawings as approved earlier are needed so that the important structural members are not subjected to modification or removal as it will have an adverse bearing on the building.
In case safety or security concerns are important, the Act provides an exemption in section 8 which could be availed by the PIO for denial of the internal layout and internal detailing only in specific cases by considering security aspect of the building which is generally in rare cases. Hence a specific order of Blanket Ban of “internal layout of the rooms in the building and interiors and internal detailing in the building” by denying it to every applicant by invoking Section 19(8)a and Section 25(5) is unnecessary and uncalled for.
3. Besides the above specific objections, we would like to place before you some reservations we have in keeping with the spirit of the RTI Act, which are as follows:
a) The RTI Act insists on reasonability of all decisions, actions taken, etc. The order passed by you is “unreasonable” in view of what we have stated above.
b) The RTI Act expects a “public consultation” for any policy/rule change that is considered. Your order clearly forces the changes in the policy/rule by a blanket denial of plans which were earlier provided under RTI and also without an RTI application. Hence it was necessary that proper consultative process be followed prior to this order.
c) As inspection is allowed under RTI Act, an applicant cannot inspect the internal works of any building/office/structure without being provided with a copy of the internal layout and details/dimensions that have been approved by the competent authorities from time to time for any changes done in the internal plans.
d) The RTI Act has a primary role to curb corruption and corrupt practices by the Public Authorities as well as by builders/influential persons/public representatives etc and with the high incidence of illegal structures, non-OC buildings in our state, it is in public interest that the citizens are able to verify illegalities which is only possible if they are provided with information (including plans and layouts) through their RTI application which will also empower them.
An order, such as the one issued by you, will only encourage builders to continue their circumventing the conditions and approved plans as they know these will not be provided to the citizens, thus defeating the very purpose of transparency that the Act envisaged.
Although in the recent past we have the Adarsh issue and now the Campa Cola situation where because of lack of transparency in making the plans including the areas of buildings etc in the public domain which have resulted in illegal constructions and the innocent consumer has to bear the brunt.
Actually there 1000s of buildings are without Commencement Certificate and Occupation Certificate, where there may be illegalities internally and externally for which doors of getting the information are closed by your order.
This order in fact will encourage more illegalities being committed by the Builders / Developers many of whom are a law unto themselves. Repeatedly the Courts, various Consumer Forums have ruled in several cases of the increased illegalities conducted by the builders and the demand that they be transparent in the conduct of their construction activities.
e) The building plans in most cases are composite and the internal details cannot be practically severed off or erased or deleted. Hence the PIO will take recourse to section 7(9) An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question. and not provide any plans to the applicant. In this respect too, your order is unreasonable.
f) To the best of our knowledge your order contravenes the Section 8(3) Subject to the provisions of clauses (a), (c) and (i) of sub-section (1), any information relating to any occurrence, event or matter which has taken place, occurred or happened twenty years before the date on which any request is made under section 6 shall be provided to any person making a request under that section: Provided that where any question arises as to the date from which the said period of twenty years has to be computed, the decision of the Central Government shall be final, subject to the usual appeals provided for in this Act. of the RTI Act 2005
In view of the above, we are of the firm opinion that issuing the orders by invoking Section19(8) (a) and Section 25(5) is undesirable and beyond the purview of power vested to Information Commission, as such we request you to consider review or withdraw or stay the operation of both your orders of 26 Sept 2013 and 21 Nov 2013, which will promote transparency, accountability and also to contain corruption in the state and hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.
Thanking you in anticipation, we remain,
Yours in service of RTI