January 20, 2018 8:30:34 am
In the wake of Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta instructing senior municipal officials to crackdown on “professional complainants” who use the Right to Information (RTI) Act to extort money, blackmail property owners and prominent people, activists have written to the chief minister seeking his intervention.
Calling the move an evidence of blatant disregard for democratic processes and norms, the residents, including former police commissioner Julio Rebeiro and former municipal commissioner D M Sukthankar have launched an online platform to gather support for the demands. The letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was signed by Rebeiro, Sukthankar, former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and others and it seeks his directions to all government officials to desist from calling RTI Act users blackmailers.
“If there are any specific cases of illegal actions, they should certainly brought to book,” it says. After the Kamala Mills fire on December 29 last year, Mehta had asked Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC’s)deputy municipal commissioners of all seven zones to prepare a list of “professional complainants” who file bulk RTI applications. The civic chief issued a circular to officers directing them to name officials who are allegedly part of a nexus with “professional complainants”.
The letter to the CM states: “There have been repeated instances of targeting, defaming and hounding of fellow citizens who file RTI applications seeking information from BMC. One assistant commissioner of BMC went to the extent of filing a complaint with a police station naming over 70 citizens, mostly RTI users, as extortionists and blackmailers, without producing any evidence. The municipal commissioner and other senior officials have been spreading a canard calling citizens using their fundamental RTI as blackmailers and undesirables and blaming them for the corruption.”
It seeks Fadnavis’s direction for the BMC to display all RTI applications and responses on its website from March 1. Terming Mehta’s order declaring NGO Praja Foundation “persona non-grata” illegal, the activists demanded that it be withdrawn immediately.“Blaming people for the corruption and rot in the BMC is anti-democratic. The BMC is refusing to be transparent and accountable,” said Gandhi.
The letter also requested Fadnavis to take strong action against disregard for rules and regulations that led to tragedies like the Kamala Mills fire and the usurpation of open spaces. “The rule of law needs to be strictly adhered to while conducting business by the BMC. We do not and will not accept the issuance of illegal permits and licences that favour a few nor would we accept ad hoc changes in policies and those which are not citizen-centric. We will not accept the callousness with which the BMC works,” said Rebeiro.
Referring to a radio jockey’s criticism of the civic body and her subsequent harassment by the BMC, he said: “The municipal corporation is also throttling freedom of speech blatantly.” Sukthankar said: “We want transparency in the working and performance of the BMC. For this, we demand that proactive disclosure of information and democratic principles be thoroughly followed and executed both in letter and spirit.”
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