MUMBAI: State information commissioner on December 4 withdrew an order issued last month that imposed certain qualifications on obtaining building plans approved by the BMC under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
He said the latest decision was taken “with a view to avoid confusion and practical difficulties in securing information about building plans”. Nonetheless, he urged that caution be exercised when demands for the plans of public utilities or buildings are made. “The authorities must consider if there may be some danger to national security or public safety if these plans are given.” If the answer is yes, the requests in such cases “should be declined as per the provisions of the RTI Act”.
This was the second time Gaikwad withdrew an order on the issue. Following criticism, an order dated September 26 was scratched on November 21 and a new one issued. But that too met with disapproval. “The language and structure of both the orders perhaps made them look like blanket ban on disclosure of information relating to building plans, which was never the intention of the commission and the commission expresses regrets for it,” said Gaikwad on December 4.
Gaikwad held a formal hearing following an appeal by former the central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu. The two held that public information officers (PIOs) were using the November order to deny information regarding all details and plans.
While explaining the rationale behind the September order, Gaikwad said it was not taken suo motu. “A MLA wrote to the commission pointing out serious lapses committed by PIOs while furnishing information about building plans and violations of sections 8 (a, d), 9 and 11 of the Act, which were dangerous for the country’s security.”
Desai enclosed news items that described how Maoists, through proxies, obtained info under RTI in Jharkhand and misused it for extortion, leading in some cases to the killing of real estate contractors. The MLA requested the commission not to provide info on public buildings. “Since the commission was of the same opinion, an order was issued on September 26.”
Gandhi pointed out that building plans are submitted to the authorities as a statutory requirement. The risk of info being used for terror attacks is small, Gandhi maintained, pointing out that corruption in any case ensures that plans are given out at times “for a price”.