The Central Information Commissioner recently imposed maximum penalty of Rs. 25,000 on two officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for failing to provide information about illegal constructions in the prohibited area around Taj Mahal.
“When 500 meters area was demarcated for the purposes of protection of the historic monument, the concerned agency ASI is expected to have the records about colonies and structures within that demarcated area. How can they say that they do not have the records? If they do not have such elementary record, how do they prevent illegal structures and secure the existing structures... Non-disclosure of this information facilitates the corruption by both ASI and Agra Development Authority, because their staff can threaten every essential repair or maintenance as illegal construction as harmful to Taj Mahal, or encourage illegal structures for any illegal purpose. They should have such information and that should be accessible to the people… Hence the Commission thought the denial of information sought would be very harmful,” Information Commissioner Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu observed.
The Appellant, Mr. Bhim Singh Sagar had sought from the ASI, specific details of houses, roads, residential colonies etc. within demarcation of 500 meters from east to south gate of the Taj Mahal. The ASI, however, denied the information, saying that the records were not available with them. This was confirmed by the First Appellate Authority.
ASI had now contended that the information sought by Mr. Sagar is monitored and controlled by the Agra Development Authority, while ASI is endowed with the responsibility of preservation and maintenance of protected monuments.
The Commission, however, refused to accept such arguments and opined that ASI cannot deny its responsibility, and that “the officer handling Right to Information (RTI) application cannot 'escape' responsibility of answering queries by simply forwarding the application to other local civic authority.”
“The ASI Agra is not a post office and the officers there are not dispatch clerks, they are authorities with responsibilities prescribed by ASI Act and also RTI Act. They have to answer the questions of great public interest and their statutory duty without simply passing on the buck to Agra Development Authority. If need be they have to pursue with local civic bodies to initiate all measures to protect the monument,” Prof. Acharyulu further observed.
The Commission then imposed a penalty of Rs. 25,000 on Central Public Information Officers, Ms. K.A. Kabui and Mr. M.C. Sharma of ASI, who had handled the RTI application.
Read the Order here.