Friday, June 08, 2018

To fob off RTI applicants, civic body in Pallavaram sends backdated letters

Times of India: Chennai: Friday, June 08, 2018.
When T Shanthi of Zamin Pallavaram filed an RTI in February seeking the building permit and plan approval for an illegal construction on a plot earmarked as OSR land in her locality, she received a backdated letter from the municipality two months later. While the letter carried the date March 6 well within the 30-day stipulated period for receipt for information under the RTI Act, 2005 the postal stamp on the letter bore the date April 4.
“Because of political backing, the building under construction next to my house sprung up without proper approvals,” said the resident of Perumal Nagar. “On April 6, I got a reply denying information on the grounds that I did not mention my door number.” Subsequently, she filed another RTI, for which she was asked to deposit ₹300 if she wanted the plan.
Similarly, Margaret Vatsala of Radha Nagar in Chromepet filed an RTI in January but didn’t get the information she sought even after filing the first appeal in February. “Setback area between the properties was missing as the new owner of the property wanted a shared compound wall,” said David Manohar, an RTI activist. Only after Vatsala moved the Madras high court against irregularities in construction, was she sent a reply from the municipality – three months later. A copy of the letter, obtained by TOI, shows it was dated February 26 but was posted on April 4. Construction was stopped after the court ordered the town planning department and Pallavaram municipality to inspect the property, but no action was taken against the builder.
Pallavaram municipality, Manohar said, has been resorting to such tactics to deny sharing information. “When the Public Information Officer (PIO) doesn’t respond to RTI queries, not everyone bothers to go for first and second appeals,” he said, having received backdated replies himself, twice. PIO Sivakumar declined to comment.