The Central Information Commission (CIC) has pulled up the Labour Ministry for behaving as a cantankerous tenant to a 90-year-old landlady who claims to be the aunt of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and had been requesting revision of rent for a Beedi Workers Welfare Fund (BWWF) dispensary being run on her premises in Vadnagar in Gujarat's Mehsana district.
“How can state behave like a cantankerous tenant? They should have respected the nonagenarian. Is there no single human being in this office,” the CIC asked the Welfare Commissioner office.
The appellant Dahiben Narottam Modi, a 90-year-old widow, is the owner of a building leased out for the dispensary for beedi workers since 1983 for a paltry rent of Rs. 600 per month which was later increased to Rs. 1,500.
She told the CIC that she is all alone, surviving solely on the rental income of Rs. 1,500 from this building, and her request for revision of rent was pending since 2008.
When she received a letter for renewal of lease, she sought information from the department about the date of first engagement of rent of house and the rent fixed at initial stage, the period for which the lease was fixed at the initial stage, date of first renewal etc.
She also wrote: “Under the circumstances if your department is not ready to redress my complaints then I have to think twice to renew the lease which was never affordable. Please comply with at earliest to avoid the delay of renewal the lease…”
The CPIO and Assistant Welfare Commissioner, (Central) Ahmadabad, TB Moitra replied on December 21, 2017, stating that at the initial days, the monitoring of building file of BWWF Dispensary Vadnagar, was being dealt at WC Office, Bhilwara (Now, Ajmer) hence, the office is not in a position to furnish the details sought.
On other queries, he asked the appellant to furnish some documents which the latter claims to have submitted already in the Mehsana office.
As for the revision of rent, Moitra said the building has to be assessed by local PWD/CPWD authorities in Gujarat.
It was in her first appeal that the senior citizen wrote that, “I am real aunty (chaachi/kaaki) of Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, who is my real nephew and if justice is not given to me, then the entire matter will be reported to PM.”
Without any redressal, when the elderly woman moved the CIC on May 25 this year, SS Bhople, Welfare and Cess Commissioner, wrote a letter to the CIC after receiving hearing notice stating that “the first rent agreement was issued in 1983 with an initial rent of Rs. 600 and initially the lease agreement was for 5 years etc”.
CPIO TB Moitra claimed that in spite of their requests, the appellant did not file requisite documents, because of which they could not revise the rent.
After perusal of record and hearing the contentions, the Commission felt sad for the harassment of a nonagenarian woman, because of the non-responsive attitude of the officers of public authority, both as a landlady and information seeker.
“Though she is related to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she did not use that to influence the authorities. She did not even mention it in her RTI application but sought for information as a citizen and requested for revision of rent or vacating building. The office, without any concern for her helplessness, asked her to produce some documents in multiple copies, which they could have easily prepared. Though she submitted those papers they did not try to get from Mehsana office.
“When information request was inadequately answered, she filed a first appeal explaining her helplessness. Then she revealed that she was Chachee/Kaakee of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and warned the officers to report against them to her nephew (PM). But the officers in their usual manner ignored the entire letter and insisted on the production of documents and some papers to be given by the PWD department of Gujarat. There was no response to her first appeal. There was neither hearing nor consideration of her appeal on merits. First appellate authority, who is none other than the Welfare Commissioner Mr Bhople, did not even care to give an order. Her harassment continued,” noted the CIC.
“The facts reveal that the public authority is residing in her building since 1983 paying a paltry rent of Rs. 600 per month, which was gradually increased over years up to Rs. 1,500 as against Rs 15,000 market rent value of that property, without offering a proper, regular and prompt re-assessment. She was appealing for increasing rent to Rs 10,000 per month. The officers knew the entire problem. The representative of the old woman pleaded for justice in this second appeal, as she cannot physically go round the PWD office and Welfare Commissioners office or bribe at every stage of documentation”.
The CIC also noted that as a lessee, the authority has a duty to honour the terms of the contract and act according to policy of the public authority for periodic revision of rent.
Acharyulu has now asked Moitra and Bhople to show cause why maximum penalty be not imposed on them for not providing the information sought.
He has also directed the Public Works Secretary to provide all necessary information to the department concerned for the reassessment of rent with a copy to be shared with the appellant.