The office of the Joint Charity Commissioner has seen a significant rise in the number of RTI applications related to the land holdings of public and charitable trusts. In fact, wary of misuse of information sought, the office has started including a rejoinder stating that the information has been given under RTI and should not be used for any other purpose, said Public Information Officer Tanaji Gaikwad.
Land holdings of the trust come from donations or from acquisition by the trust in course of time. Governed by strict laws of the Bombay Public Trust (BPT), Act 1960, administration of these land holdings are with the trust. Without the permission of the Joint Charity Commissioner, the trusts are not allowed to sale, rent or lease any land or other properties of the trusts. The process of granting such sanction is governed by the Section 36 of the Act and is done after rigorous scrutiny by the Charity Commissioner.
However, these land holdings have started attracting the attention of people whose intentions might not be charitable or public. Using the internal feud or lack of proper supervision by the trustees, many times immovable property is grabbed to be used for financial gains of a few.
In this order, officers of the Charity Commissioner’s office stated that at times revenue officials have a role to play in changing the title (ownership) of the land holdings. An officer talked about how five years ago, efforts were made by a certain individual to get tracts of land in Junnar, who applied with the tehsildar’s office.
“The person in question had the same name as the deity on whose name the trust was registered with the Charity Commissioner’s office. He said that as he is the same person, the land should now be transferred solely on his name and the holding of the trust be dropped. The revenue officer was wise enough to understand the subterfuge and refused to do so. Also, he brought this to our notice and we were able to stop illegal transfer of land,” he said.
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Officers said in the recent times, RTI applications asking for specific details of land holdings have started increasing. The office, on an average, gets more than 180 RTI applications, of which 80 per cent are related to land holdings of trusts. These, officers said, have at times been used as documents to transfer land in the lower rungs of revenue offices. Officers pointed out how under the Act, the process of alienation of land is a tedious one.