The commission has also asked managing director of the Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam (UHBVN), Panchkula to conduct a survey of the Aravali area, specifically these 60 farmhouses, and furnish complete details of the electricity connections provided in the area.
The commission passed the order on January 15 on hearing an appeal filed by senior Haryana bureaucrat Ashok Khemka.
The order said, “The commission recommends that the principal secretary, Haryana town and country planning department, Chandigarh; principal secretary, forest and wildlife department conduct a survey of the Aravali area —specifically the 60 farm houses (details of which has been provided by the appellant) and furnish complete details of all illegal constructions in the area…”
Submit report on ‘illegal’ farmhouses in month: Panel
This is to be done, according to the commission order, “so that the public can access the facts about the encroachers of the Aravali land under Section 4 and 5 of Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, which has been constructed without taking the CLU from the town country planning department and also to take the action against these farm houses as per law.” Passing the order in exercise of its powers conferred under Section 25(5) of the RTI Act, 2005, the information commission asked both the departments to complete the exercise preferably within one month and submit the report to it.
In its detailed order asking the departments of town and country planning and UHBVN, the SIC observed that the Haryana minister’s reply in the Vidhan Sabha clearly acknowledges that there are 60 ‘illegal’ farm houses in the Aravalli region under discussion. “However, the public authority blatantly denies any knowledge of these encroachments, willfully contradicting the minister’s reply in the Vidhan Sabha. The RTI Act not only gives freedom to the citizens of India to access information but is also a tool to ensure transparency and accountability of public servants. The commission frowns upon this shameless disregard for accountability and the deliberate attempt to keep conceal/misrepresent facts,” observed the commission.
Khemka, through an RTI application dated February 28, 2020 had sought information from additional chief secretary, Haryana urban local bodies department, about the names of owners of the 60 farm houses in the Aravalis in Faridabad and Gurugram districts.
His application was in reference to a reply given by state forest minister Kanwar Pal Singh in the state assembly responding to a starred question by BJP MLA Seema Trikha (Badkhal) on February 27, 2020 about illegal construction in the Aravalis that 50 farm houses had been built in Faridabad and 10 farm houses in Gurugram. He also replied in negative to another part of this question that had asked whether the owners of these farm houses had taken any permission/clearance from the government.
The state public information officer (SPIO) of the urban local bodies department transferred the RTI application to the SPIO, office of director, town and country planning department on March 6, 2020. The RTI application was then forwarded to the SPIOcum-district town planner (enforcement), Gurugram on May 11, 2020. The third SPIO has not provided the requisite information till date.
The first appeal was made on August 31, 2020 but the first appellate authority too did not respond. In his appeal before the SCI, Khemka argued that by not supplying the information, the department was trying to protect the owners of illegally-constructed farm houses in an eco-fragile region.
He requested the SIC to direct the SPIO to furnish complete information at the earliest and action as per provisions of the RTI Act.
After hearing Khemka’s appeal, the SIC on December 8, 2020 had directed the SPIOscum-DTP (enforcement) of Gurgaon and Faridabad to furnish complete information within one week.
However, when the matter came up for hearing before the SIC on January 15, Khemka told the SIC that the information provided by the SPIO was designed to mislead, delay and obfuscate. He urged the SIC to direct the SPIO to furnish complete details and to take action for delay in providing the information.
The matter has now been adjourned for March 10 for next hearing.