State Information Commissioner (SIC) D B Deshpande has ordered the Maharashtra chief secretary to direct local bodies to maintain records and documentation for all expenses incurred on organising various functions.
The order is significant, for it can check the misuse of public funds earmarked for events where spending is done with little or no accountability.
Deshpande gave the direction while hearing a second appeal filed by one Vimal Kumar Khemani regarding the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Nagpur Development Trust .
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The diamond jubilee celebrations of the Nagpur Development Trust in 2012 was marked by a three-day cultural extravaganza.
There were track and field events, cultural performances by Hema Malini, Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal. The event was attended by many VIPs.
In his original Right To Information application, Khemani had asked for details of the expenditure incurred on the event. He had also asked about various administrative processes followed in sanctioning it. His RTI applications had also asked for details of the sanctioning committee that allowed the expenditure.
His original application had failed to give him the answers, with the public information officer (PIO) saying no such information existed with his office. Subsequent first appeal with the appellate authority (AA) had also failed to get any information as the AA upheld the PIO’s answer.
Khemani had then gone for a second appeal before Deshpande.
During the hearing, Deshpande had asked for clarity on various points raised by Khemani.
Documents showed that the Nagpur Development Trust had sanctioned Rs 3 crore for the celebrations, which was signed by the president of the trust.
Khemani and his counsel Ankita Shah had produced newspaper advertisements released by the trust where realtors’ association Credai was shown as a co-sponsor. Khemani had claimed the co-sponsorship by Credai would not be appropriate as there could be conflict of interest in the matter.
The trust, during the hearings, produced documents showing that the red-flagging of the celebrations by Khemani and Shah had resulted in a series of cuts in the budget and that more co-sponsors were brought on board to organise the event.
“For the sake of transparency, it was expected that the Trust should have put details of co-sponsorship, of budgetary provisions made and of sanctions given, on their website. The chief secretary of the state is hence directed that he looks into the matter and issues suitable direction to the local body,” the order read.
State government officers said this order could act as an important catalyst to help in formulating a clear cut policy in determining such celebration.
“Other than budgetary provisions, co-sponsorship is also opens avenues for corrupt practices. If all such expenditures are put on the public domain, it could act as a brake to such malpractices,” said a senior officer with the urban development department.