10 Nov 2023 | 06:30am IST
Potential Court rap makes TCP Minister ‘supersede’ his own RTI orders, which delayed & effectively blocked RTI queries
Directs his dept to entertain all RTI applications in line with the RTI Act; RTI activists Swapnesh Sherlekar, Anthony de Souza and Claude Alvares had filed a joint PIL writ petition challenging the legality of two orders/notes
PANJIM: Rather than potentially face the High Court of Bombay at Goa, Town and Country Planning Minister Vishwajit Rane ‘superseded’ both his earlier orders on Wednesday (November 8) and in his latest order, has directed his department to entertain all RTI applications in line with the Right To Information (RTI) Act.
In a note to the Chief Town Planner, the minister stated that with reference to Note No. TCP/RTI/ 309/2023/756 and Note No. TCP/Correspondence/355/202/1269 dated 16/08/2023, in supersession of the instructions issued vide notes referred above, the instructions are now issued that the Public Information Officers (PIOs) of the Town & Country Planning Department shall dispose of the application received under RTI Act 2005 at their level as per the provisions of the RTI Act, by examining said applications and furnishing the replies/
It may be recalled that Swapnesh Sherlekar, Anthony de Souza and Claude Alvares, all RTI activists, had filed a joint PIL writ petition challenging the legality of two orders/notes dated May 18, 2023, and August 16, 2023, issued by Minister for Town and Country Planning Vishwajit Rane.
These orders, were described as “illegal” but the petitioners, had directed the Chief Town Planner (Planning) to inform its Public Information Officers (PIOs) that no information on RTI requests concerning matters of the TCP Department – including applications for information relating to Section 17(2) approvals – may be issued unless prior approval of the State government is available.
The appellate authorities under the RTI Act had also declined to issue orders to release the information. Copies of the two “notes” were denied to the activists under fresh RTI requests.
It is only when the matter came before the State Information Commissioner (SIC), that the department released the illegal notes. The notes were not found uploaded on any government website.
As a result of these orders, the PIOs refused to divulge any information over a period of five months, informing the RTI activists that their applications had been referred to the government.
The petitioners argued that the orders were clearly illegal as they usurped the powers of the PIOs, and were outside the scheme of the RTI Act, which required the PIOs to issue necessary orders on RTI applications without interference from government.
Pursuant to filing of the PIL, the TCP Department called in some of the activists and granted them inspection of files sought by them. However, a number of other RTI activists were still refused information.
Adv Om D’Costa appeared for the petitioners.
During the previous hearings in September, the other petitioners had brought to the notice of the court that the TCP dept was withholding information sought under RTI Act. When the court inquired, Maharashtra AG Birendra Saraf, representing the TCP dept had assured the court that he will find out from the TCP dept and instruct them to furnish the information under the Act.