The power of RTI Act in cracking land scams

The bureaucracy was in the limelight when the ‘Adarsh’ scam involving both the bureaucrats and the political bosses in Mumbai was exposed. Government land was acquired for building low- cost posh apartments that violated most building regulations and this was brought out into the open by the efforts of  Simpreet Singh, a citizen journalist, who put to good use, the Right to Information Act. The media then performed the task of informing the public thereby creating a stir in both the bureaucratic and political circles in the country.

The matter and its criminal aspect came to light when it was submitted to the High Court as public interest litigation and the court’s order triggered the removal of the state’s chief minister who was one of the accused along with other top bureaucrats.
Similarly, another scam where IAS and IPS officers in Nasik formed a co-operative society to grab land reserved for defence was brought out by Vinod Patil, a TV correspondent who acted upon a tip off and got further details by making use of the RTI Act. Top bureaucrats including a secretary in the chief minister’s office, Nitin Kareer were found guilty.

Futile attempt

After the scam was exposed, the officers involved with the society at Nasik surrendered the land and tried to come out of the muddle clean. But the matter was raised in court by another citizen Chetan Kamble who pursued the matter based on documents he had received as per an RTI application. It was found out that a number of these civil servants had declared false incomes in their affidavits.

To cite another example, the media exposed a scam that indicted 40 bureaucrats including Sangli municipal commissioner D P Metake, conservator of forests Sunil Limaye and assistant collector Ajit Relekar of having allegedly grabbed government land personally or through their relatives in posh areas near circuit house in Kolhapur city, in southern Maharashtra.

The 37,000 square feet area which costs crores of rupees as per the market rate was purchased at a nominal amount of just Rs 18 per square feet paying a total amount of Rs 6,73,000. It was exposed that the state government had sanctioned land and the whole procedure of its acquisition was completed within a year. The ‘modus operandi’ used here seems to be similar to that followed by the ‘Adarsh’ members in Mumbai, except that the ownership of the government land is not disputed in this case.

The government scheme works to grant government land to members of low income groups who do not have residential accommodation. To acquire land, the state government should sanction the proposal after forming a co-operative society. The members are expected to produce an affidavit individually stating that they have no accommodation and that they belong to the low income group.

During the state chief minister Prithiviraj Chavan’s recent Kolhapur visit, he was asked at a news conference about the details of this scam. He replied that the government would certainly inquire into the matter and let the public know the details. But nothing has come out so far regarding the state government’s proposed inquiry.

As the higher officials in the state bureaucracy are obviously involved in the deal, the inquiry is likely to be either delayed or the whole matter may be legalised. But how can it be legalised when the very scheme to grant government land is for low income groups and the member-officials are from the higher cadre of the state bureaucracy?

The way government land is grabbed by top bureaucrats, who are considered above corrupt practices, yet in reality do what they shouldn’t, is indicative of the deceptive face of Indian bureaucracy.

They are the ones who unhesitatingly put forth rules and regulations when common people approach them for their routine work. The inherent corruption in the system of governance in which political bosses seem to be as much involved as the bureaucrats would not have come to light without a strong legal provision like the Right to Information. There could be ‘Adarsh’ replicas happening in other parts of our country. It is imperative to trace them.

The Indian media is expected to accept the challenge with motivation and aim to bring out for public good, what is hidden and forbidden.

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