Updated: January 25, 2021 9:07:49 am
The Haryana State Information Commission has rapped the state government for “strenuously subverting information under the RTI Act” in an application filed by senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka, who sought details of owners of 60 illegal farmhouses constructed in the Aravalli region.
In a scathing order passed on January 15, the State Information Commission has “frowned” upon the public authority and called the denial of information as a “shameless disregard for accountability”.
“If a senior bureaucrat like Sh. Ashok Khemka is running from pillar to post for an RTI reply, then one can only guess what an ordinary man must suffer when searching for honest replies through a clear and legitimate route like the RTI Act — a tool for systematic transparency provided by the very government that goes on to strenuously subvert it,” State Information Commissioner Arun Sangwan had said in his order dated December 8.
Continuing the hearing in the same case on January 15, the SIC observed, “The Commission frowns upon this shameless disregard for accountability and deliberate attempts to keep conceal/misrepresent facts”.
In its latest order, the Commission also asked Haryana government to conduct a survey of the 60 illegal farmhouses and submit a report in a month.
“Haryana’s State Information Commission has asked principal secretaries of Town and Country Planning department, Forest and Wildlife department to conduct a survey of the Aravalli area — specifically the 60 farmhouses — and furnish complete details of illegal construction in the area, so that the public can access facts about encroachers of the Aravalli land under Section 4 and 5 of Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, which has been constructed without taking change of land use from Town and Country Planning Department; and to take action against these farmhouses as per law. The Commission also asked that the entire exercise must be completed, preferably, in a month,” the January 15 order reads.
The SPIOs-cum-District Town Planners (Enforcement), Faridabad and Gurgaon, have also been directed to remain physically present with the relevant records on March 10, in the Commission’s Secretariat, failing which penal action would be initiated against them.
The Commission observed that the RTI application was filed by Khemka on February 28, 2020, on the basis of a minister’s reply in the Vidhan Sabha against a question raised by MLA Seema Trikha. The MLA had sought information about illegal farmhouses in Aravalli region and what action the government was taking, to which forest minister Kanwar Pal had given a list of 60 such farmhouses but names of owners were not mentioned.
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