Expose of sale of Goa land to foreigners, mafia in 2010 RTI hall of fame

The RTI awards, announced Tuesday, were instituted by the Delhi-based Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF), which picks and honours those applications which have triggered the biggest and wide-ranging impact in terms of change in government policy.
Ghate heads the Nationalist Congress Party's (NCP) youth win. His RTI quest of getting to the bottom of land sold to foreigners in violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) norms was chosen as one of the five 'best RTI citizen' awards.

"The RTI is a brahmastra (deadliest weapon) in the hands of citizens. I had a hunch about coastal land being sold in complete violation with FEMA norms and that the local sub registrars were a part of the racket," Ghate told IANS Tuesday.

Ghate's RTI four years ago unearthed more than 350 cases, in which prime coastal land was sold to foreign nationals, and in some cases alleged fronts of the Russian mafia, in violation of law between 2003 and 2007.

After the scandal broke, the state government ordered the enforcement directorate (ED) to probe the land deal in 2008. According to a senior ED official, the process for cancelling the purchase and seizing of the land from the foreign national has already begun in four cases.

"When I first filed the RTI, people used to call me crazy, saying everything had been settled with the officials and that there was the Russian mafia involved. It is only now that folks have begun understanding the true value of the RTI act," said Ghate.

The ED has also frozen the assets of True Axis, a hospitality resorts company, which was obliquely linked to the Russian mafia. The True Axis resort was spread over 30,000 sq mt land in the coastal village of Morjim, about 30 km from here. The company has subsequently appealed to an appellate authority against the ED's decision.

The best RTIs were selected by a panel of eminent jurists, including Aamir Khan, Fali Nariman, Madhu Trehan, N.R. Narayana Murthy, Prannoy Roy and J.M. Lyngdoh.
Among other recipients of the RTI awards 2010 are Vinita Kamte, wife of slain Mumbai cop Ashok Kamte, one of the 26/11 victims, for using the RTI act to expose the government inefficiency and ill preparedness which led to the death of her husband.
Other winners were Manoj Karwasa and Ramesh Kumar Varma, both from Haryana, who used the RTI route to expose corruption in rural administration and public health delivery systems respectively, and Athar Shamsi from Uttar Pradesh who fought for the rights and wages of beedi workers in his home state.

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