Thursday, June 29, 2017

Haryana orders probe after waqf board blocks repeated RTI queries on alleged land scam

India Today: Chandigarh: Thursday, June 29, 2017.
A turf tussle has broken out in Haryana with the state waqf board, which is sitting on massive landholdings and facing accusations of mismanagement, refusing to cede ground even in RTI queries by denying information.
The Haryana information commission has found the first appellate authority of the board guilty of stonewalling facts from the public regarding waqf properties and associated details of their current state of existence. More than that, the authority observed in its order dated June 20 that the waqf official instructed his junior public information officers to deliberately delay the furnishing of information to Gurugram-based activist Harinder Dhingra under "ulterior motives".
Waqf is an endowment, typically devoting a building or plot of land for Muslim religious, educational or charitable purposes. Under Indian law, it cannot be transferred or sold, and must be used for the community's welfare.
In yet another surprising facet of what the Haryana information commission thinks might be going on in the dealings of the state waqf board is a directive to a state public information officer (SPIO) related to the case.
It says to the officer to "keep entire record pertaining to this RTI applications and show cause notice till date, in his personal custody and shall not hand over to any of the authority except Shri Ram Niwas, additional chief secretary who is looking after the affairs of the Haryana Waqf Board."
A clutch of state waqf boards have been accused of selling land to builders and private buyers for low rates in return for kickbacks.
"My claim is that the waqf properties in the state have long been mismanaged and an inquiry into the matter was pertinent," Dhingra told Mail Today.
"I wanted to get information regarding who these properties have been leased to and under what conditions to expose the reality. I was denied the information. But, ironically, the very act of denial has now become the reason for an inquiry in the matter by the additional chief secretary."
Due to Dhingra's efforts, the state waqf Board came under the purview of the RTI Act in 2012.
While the board moved the high court against this, but lost in 2013.
When board CEO Hanif Quereshi was asked about the matter, he denied having any knowledge of the order. "I have not seen the order so I can't comment on it. But, we do publish the details of the board's properties in our annual reports," he said.
The commission has also directed Niwas to "take appropriate action against Shri Imtiyaz Khizar, First Appellate Authority-cum-ADMO O/o Haryan Waqf Board, Ambala, who had shown total disregard and apathy to the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005, at his end".
The current SPIO of the board and well as another retired ASPIO gave ample testimony, as the records of the verdict of the commission bear, against Khizar and told the commission how he stonewalled the information sought by Dhingra.
The commission also noted that the SPIO was not to blame for denying information and delaying it, and the blame rested with the first appellate authority".
The information panel also said tellingly: "The commission is further aware of the constraints and limitation of junior officers, when their seniors interfere with their working with "ulterior motive" with a view to defeat the very purpose of transparency which is cardinal to the RTI Act 2005."