The phenomenon of crucial files going missing may be more complex than it seems. Insider accounts as well as those from some people dealing with the civic body’s building proposal department reveal that the ‘disappearance’ may be to mislead people inquiring about illegalities.
Activists believe that this 'disappearance' is only on paper, so that no inquiries are raised against the building.
“Many of these files may temporarily go missing when there is a fear that they may be subject to Right to Information (RTI) queries. These files quietly come back to civic records when this fear dissipates," conservation architect Pankaj Joshi says.
According to Joshi, it isn’t easy to make files ‘disappear’ from civic offices. “There are various entries made and records of all the files in the civic body, especially those from its building proposal department, are carefully maintained. They are also stored in safes and aren’t just lying around to be flicked.”
Anil Galgali, an RTI activist, said that the disappearance is impossible without a nexus. "Senior politicians often bat for an architect or a builder and instruct the concerned official to show the file as being missing." Galgali said that such cases are very common. "There have been a few instances where I've asked for files of private buildings under RTI for suspected illegalities and officials have steadfastly refused to give them despite orders."
One view that both Joshi and Galgali, among many others, are unanimous about is that missing files can be very easily reconstructed provided the BMC wants to do the same.
BMC insiders said that the ‘disappearance’ of the files is convenient and is done to mislead applicants and whistle-blowers, who are looking at unearthing information that could potentially nail the builder and the civic officials responsible for the illegalities.
A senior civic official, who had once served in the building proposal department, said that the ‘disappearance’ of these files may not last for too long. “Builders and officials are often scared of these illegalities coming to light. Hence, if illegalities are committed, the builder connives with officials to ensure that the file doesn’t remain on records.”