Who are the landowners who have been exempted from the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act’s (ULCRA) land acquisition clauses that they build houses for ‘the weaker sections’ of society? What are the housing schemes that have come up as a result?
Member of non-governmental organisation National Alliance for Peoples Movements Simpreet Singh (27) has asked the government to give him these details about the controversial ULCRA law’s implementation under the Right to Information Act.
Under pressure from the Centre and the World Bank, the state government is set to repeal ULCRA in the upcoming legislative session.
The three-decade-old socialist land acquisition and housing measure was brought in during the Emergency by Indira Gandhi’s government, placing a ceiling on owning land beyond 500 sq metre, and acquiring the ‘excess’ for public purposes, most notably low and middle-income housing. But if the officers are to be believed, the government doesn’t have ready answers to the above questions.
Responding to Singh, the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Urban Development, V Jadhav dashed off a rejection, claiming “the information is too voluminous to give.”
The PIO at the Collectorate, S Dhaigude, went a step further and sent Simpreet a bill for Rs 16.27 lakh if he wanted the information.
Dhaigude told HT: "We have over 20,000 files. Each file contains upto six pages. Certified copies cost Rs 26 per page. Hence Rs 16.2 lakh. If the citizen has a problem, he can go and appeal."
Singh has now filed a complaint with the State Information Commision, where over 5,000 information appeals against the government are pending.
He believes the government is demanding the astronomical sum because it does not want to reveal the information since it will show up the non-implementation of the Act.
“I neither asked for entire files, not certified copies. I only want the list of landowner exemptions, and the names of the housing schemes where the land, which should otherwise have come to the government, has been used.”
Singh pointed out that the government had informed the Bombay High Court that 1,800 acres - or 45 Nariman Points - of excess land in Mumbai had been exempted under ULCRA. “How can they not know how this land was used if they have decided to repeal it?”
Section 4 of the RTI Act also states that state departments should keep all their records catalogued and indexed to help citizens access information. But 15 months after the Act came into force, the Urban Development department, headed by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, is yet to do it.
Jadhav said, “We do not have the time to do all this organising.”
UD secretary Ramanand Tiwari said that charge was justified. “RTI prescribes a fee, and in this case the information has to be culled out,” he added.
But state Information Commissioner Suresh Joshi, who is yet to hear Singh’s complaint, said the state wasn’t implementing the sunshine law adequately.
“I met the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary two weeks ago about the need for all departments to implement the suo moto disclosure clause and organise their records. Over a year has passed and we have a more refined sense now of what citizens want to know, so it should be done, especially with regard to policy matters.”
He added the state had promised to convene a meeting of all secretaries to ensure their departments fall in line, and he would pursue the matter with the government.