Written by MALAVIKA RANGARAJAN
In a letter, former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi Wednesday said Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta should apologise for “insulting citizens using their fundamental Right to Information guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution”. The letter follows Mehta directing action against “professional complainants” filing bulk RTI applications seeking information about building plans after the Kamala Mills fire on December 29, 2017. Gandhi has demanded that Mehta aplogise before the 17th of January.
Gandhi’s letter to Mehta reads, “You have also indicated that your main problem is the constitution and citizens using their fundamental right, not the corrupt decadent organisation headed by you. You are under the misconception that citizens are spoiling the image of the BMC. Wake up and ask Mumbaikars. If you listen, they will tell you that a very significant number of officials take bribes for legal and illegal actions.”
Citing complaints against 70 residents on the grounds of being “extortionists and blackmailers”, the letter states: “Almost all of them were RTI users. No evidence was produced, and there was a reprimand from the State Information Commission.”
Speaking with The Indian Express, Gandhi said, “The simple solution is that all RTI applications and responses must be put up on the website. The BMC does not want to follow the measures outlined in DoPT’s Office Memorandum or the State Government’s resolutions. They just want to blame the citizens. If they become transparent, the BMC’s governance will see a huge change, but they simply don’t want to do it.” The letter also mentions that the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) suggested a similar course of action.
Calling the BMC’s complaints “a shameless act that rubs salt into the burns”, Gandhi added: “The basics of democracy is that the citizen exercises his rights. It is ridiculous to blame them — the individual filing an RTI is not wrong, he just unearthed something wrong. The system’s concern should be about why the wrong is happening and correct it. Although in some extremely rare cases that I have come across, unscrupulous people take money instead of getting the wrong corrected and use it as a harassment tool, in general, people who point out illegality do not become misusers.”
Gandhi’s letter to Mehta says, “You and BMC are consistently insulting citizens and trying to besmirch a right which exposes BMC and its misdeeds. Whereas even Dhule, Latur, Gadchiroli and Satara municipal bodies are offering an online RTI facility, BMC is refusing to do this.”
Senior BMC officials claimed that the civic chief had nowhere in his comment mentioned ‘RTI’, therefore there was no question of defaming or maligning RTI or RTI activists.
Mehta, in the aftermath of Kamala Mills fire, had spoken about a nexus between BMC officials, local politicians and activists responsible for irregularities and illegalities by commercial establishments.
When contacted, Mehta declined to comment on the letter.