Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Beauty of Taj Mahal under threat; CIC takes action

Telangana Today: Agra: Tuesday, June 06, 2017.
It appears that all is not well in Taj Mahal’s Agra. The Chief Information Commission (CIC) has issued its decision in the case of an appeal made by one Bhim Singh Sagar, a resident of Agra, requesting information regarding what all constitutes illegal construction near Taj Mahal.
In the written decision, a copy of which is with Telangana Today, the Chief Information Commissioner Madabhushi Sridhar notes that the appellant was unjustly denied information by RTI authorities in Agra, and that the Chief Public Information Officers of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Agra Development Authority (ADA) are liable under RTI Act to pay a fine each.
The matter relates to illegal construction in and around the Taj Mahal. The CIC, which is the highest RTI authority of the country, notes that the appellant Bhim Singh Sagar “sought specific details of houses, roads, the residential colonies etc., within demarcation of 500 meters border from the east to south gate of the Taj Mahal monument in Agra city”. The CPIO of ASI denied the information, saying it is not available with them as records stay with civic authorities such as ADA, following which the appellant approached the CIC.
The CIC in its analysis notes, “The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), under the Ministry of Culture, is the premier organization responsible for maintenance and protection of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance.”
It goes on to argue, after quoting several media reports of the failure of the ASI to look into issues pertaining to the damage being caused, over the years, to the ‘aesthetic beauty of the Taj Mahal’, that “The public authority (ASI) thus cannot deny their responsibility to report the illegal construction and the officer handling Right to Information (RTI) application cannot ‘escape’ responsibility of answering queries by simply forwarding the application to other local civic authority (ADA). The ASI Agra is not a post office and the officers there are not dispatch clerks, they are authorities with responsibilities prescribed by ASI Act and also RTI Act. They have to answer the questions of great public interest and their statutory duty without simply passing on the buck to Agra Development Authority. If need be, they have to pursue with local civic bodies to initiate all measures to protect the monument.”
Thereafter, making a mention of the time given to the concerned authorities and taking into consideration their response, the CIC gave its decision to fine the CPIOs of ASI Agra and ADA, and ordered them to furnish the sought information and make the same public on their websites.
“The Commission, thus, finds both CPIOs liable under RTI Act for denial of information. Accordingly, Ms KA Kabui, CPIO and Mr MC Sharma are directed to pay a sum of Rs 25,000 each in five equal monthly installments. The Appellate Authority is directed to recover the amount of Rs 25,000 each from the salary payable to, Ms KA Kabui and Mr MC Sharma by way of Demand Draft,” reads the decision.
The CIC also made it clear that ASI Agra will have to furnish the information sought under the RTI appeal by Bhim Singh.
The decision reads: “The information sought by the appellant has to be published by the public authority on its own, under Section 4(1)(b) of RTI Act, to secure the objective and purpose of ASI Act, or to perform duties prescribed by that Act to protect the historic monument. Besides placing in website the details of structures, colonies and roads within 500 metres, specifying the borders wherein illegal constructions will be checked, public authority is also expected to keep certain printed copies for easy reference and verification by common people who do not have access to internet. The information to be disclosed under this category also shall include periodical updates of action taken on illegal structures, fines imposed or buildings demolished if any out of 533 illegal structures mentioned by ASI in response to another RTI request, how many structures were removed, action taken in these cases and also illegal structures with Taj Trapezium Zone.”
As for the Agra Development Authority, the CIC decided: “The Commission directs the CPIO of Agra Development Authority, ADA to prepare a note on details sought by the appellant, in coordination with the ASI, provide the same to the appellant and publish on the websites of ADA and ASI Agra.”
Unrelated to the RTI appeal but pertinent to the issue at hand, the CIC also took a serious note of media reports that bug infestations from Yamuna River were harming the ‘marble beauty’ of the Taj Mahal. Towards this end, the CIC decided: “The Commission directs the CPIO of Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to disclose what steps it has taken to prevent eutrophication in Yamuna River affecting the marble beauty of Taj Mahal, and to avoid the threat of Goeldichironomus swarm of bug emanating from Yamuna River.” In this context, eutrophication refers to the increasing fungal life of the river, causing a population rise of bugs, which in turn were ‘infesting the marble walls of the monument’.
All information sought, the CIC ordered, should be furnished before July 1.