Swapnesh Sherlekar, Anthony de Souza and Claude Alvares, all RTI activists, filed a joint PIL writ petition to challenge the legality of two orders/Notes dt. 18.05.2023 and 16.08.2023 issued by Vishwajeet Rane, Minister for Town and Country Planning, bearing No. TCP/RTI/309/2023/756 and No. TCP/Correspondence/3355 /2023/1269.
These illegal orders directed the Chief Town Planner (Planning) to inform its PIOs that no information on RTI requests concerning matters of the Town and Country Planning department – including applications for information relating to Section 17(2) approvals – may be issued unless prior approval of the state government is available.
The appellate authorities under the RTI Act also declined to issue orders to release the information. Copies of the two “notes” were denied to the activists under fresh RTI requests. It is only when the matter came before the state information commissioner, that the department released the illegal notes. The notes were not found uploaded on any government website.
As a result of these orders, the PIOs refused to divulge any information over a period of 5 months, informing the RTI activists that their applications had been referred to the government.
The petitioners argued that the orders were clearly illegal as they usurped the powers of the Public Information Officers, and were outside the scheme of the RTI Act, which required the PIOs to issue necessary orders on RTI applications without interference from government.
Pursuant to filing of the PIL, the TCP department called in some of the activists and granted them inspection of files sought by them. However, a number of other RTI activists were still refused information.
On 8 November, rather than face the High Court, Rane quietly withdrew both his illegal orders. In his latest order, the Minister “superseded” the earlier orders, and directed the TCP department to entertain all RTI applications in line with the RTI Act. Adv. Om D’Costa appeared for the petitioners.