How RTI Helped Empower the Salisbury Park Campaign for Removal of the Illegal Board
It has been over three months since Pune's Salisbury Park Residents Forum (SPRF) members have been fighting a tenacious, peaceful battle against the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) corporator, having put up a board of his father's name to a new public garden in the neighbourhood.
 
Last week, the legal department of the Pune Municipal Corporation  (PMC) concluded that not only the board in the new Salisbury Park garden but boards in 84 such gardens are illegal. Of course, the municipal commissioner has yet to take an active decision. Therefore, the SPRF has written to him to pull down the board of the Salisbury Park garden.
 
What helped, besides visible protest events, is the prolific use of Right to Information (RTI) by this author, who is a part of the SPRF campaign. It is important to amplify this aspect so that more and more citizens use it, for furthering and strengthening the causes for which they are fighting. Its power is amazing; never mind the lament, now and then, of how this Act has been diluted. So let's see which documents served as authentic proof to provide ammunition for our campaign.
 
RTI activist Qaneez Sukhrani procured PMC's general body resolution - GR 2000 document and shared it with me. This GR of 24 July 2000 (attached in this story) clearly states that public gardens in Pune should be named only after a national leader, a leading botanist or an eminent environmentalist. There has been no amendment to this GR. 
 
 
However, BJP corporator Shrinath Bhimale, on the night of 13 March 2022, put up the board of his father's name clandestinely by overnight ripping off the name of the original board – Pune Mahanagarpalika Udyan (which was the original name of our garden when it was inaugurated on 21 November 2021).
 
So, I did an inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act and also used Section 6 of the RTI Act to find out the following:
 
1. Certified copy of GR of 2000 regarding the naming of public gardens (requested again).
2. Certified copy of no objection certificate (NOC) denied by garden department for the name of Yashwantrao Bhimale proposed for the Pune Mahanagarpalika Udyan of Salisbury Park.
3. Copy of biodata of all the committee members of the naming committee of the PMC for public spaces. 
4. Copies of documents of procedures to be followed for the names on boards of public gardens and other public spaces.
5. Copies of expenditure of the Pune Mahanagarpalika Garden in Salisbury Park to develop the garden, expenses of landscape artist, pagodas, manicured lawns, plants, and shrubs, streets, lighting,, sculptures, names on all plaques.
6. Expenditure every month since its inception on security guards at the Pune Mahanagarpalika garden.
7. Names of other parks in Salisbury Park.
 
Please send me the list of public gardens in Pune which have boards of corporators' family members after the GR of 2000. 
 
All these RTI documents were promptly provided to me by the garden department of the PMC. I immensely thank Ashok Ghorpade, PMC's garden department, who promptly provided all the documents without fear or prejudice. We need these kinds of government officers for transparency, accountability and proactive democracy.
 
The RTI document, which exposed the PMC and the corporator Bhimale, was the one dated 5 March 2020 wherein the naming committee of the garden department of the PMC, clearly questioned the name of Shrinath Bhimale proposed for our Salisbury Park garden and commented that it did not fit into the norms of the 24 July 2020 GR. 
 
So, clearly, it is very important to remember here that when we met municipal commissioner Vikram Kumar with our complaint, he had stated that since this GR of 2000 is long back, he would have to see if there were any amendments thereafter. 
 
This one document which I, as a citizen, procured under RTI, nailed that doubt!! And since this GR stands relevant even today, as per the PMC itself, the name clandestinely and overnight put up by BJP corporator Shrinath Bhimale is TOTALLY ILLEGAL.
 
Following are the observations of PMC's garden superintendent Ashok Ghorpade on 5 March 2020 (translated in English) in that document, "Late Professor Yashvantrao Bhimale Garden, Salisbury Park" is not in accordance with the previously passed resolution No 110, Dt 24/07/2000 of Hon'ble General Body relating to the name resolution, which is: Gardens in jurisdiction of Pune Municipal Corporation be named only after national leaders and persons who have made significant contributions in the field of botany and environment. Information as to whether late Professor Yashvantrao Bhimale had made any contributions to the fields of botany and/ or environment, the name committee has remarked `no.'"
 
However, on 6 March 2020 (one day after the naming committee rejected the naming proposal), another RTI document revealed that the proposal to name the garden as late professor Yashvantrao Bhimale Garden, Salisbury Park (Subject No 160) was listed as an urgent matter in the agenda for the meeting along with four other subjects. 
 
Notably, matters submitted after the deadline for inclusion in the agenda, which must be considered immediately in the public interest, are normally introduced in the agenda as exceptional matters and listed as an urgent matter and not some garden's name of a private individual! The above meeting was attended by committee chairman Rajesh Yenpure (BJP) and member corporators Ujjwala Jungle (BJP), Veersen Jagtap (BJP), Prasanna Jagtap (BJP), Sandip Jarhad (BJP) and Latabai Rajguru (Congress). The committee chose to ignore the caution/comments of the garden department, which it submitted through the office of the municipal secretary and gave its approval to the proposal.
 
Then, on 17 March 2021, another document under RTI revealed that the general body too did not abide by the garden department's disapproval based on GR of 24 July 2000 and approved the resolution on 17 March 2021 – more than a year after the name committee passed it and forwarded it to the general body.
 
On 22 March 2021, the municipal commissioner's office too ignored the GR. The general body resolution was subsequently sent to the municipal commissioner by the municipal secretary. On receipt of the municipal secretary's letter, the municipal commissioner's office issued instructions on 22 March 2021, asking the officials concerned to obtain the municipal commissioner's order through the additional municipal commissioner for implementing the resolution. Evidently, the caution the chief garden superintendent sounded in an opinion submitted to the naming committee a year earlier was not considered at any of the stages.
 
General body finally violates its own resolution: The general body is the apex body to take policy decisions for the municipal corporation. Implementation of its resolutions is mandatory for all departments, sub-committees,  officers and office bearers of the local body. The general body too, cannot act in violation of its own resolution, although it has the power to amend or revoke its earlier resolutions and decisions.
 
However, it did! And we citizens are not giving up and that has put the PMC and all the corporators on the backfoot and they are still trying to face our campaign bravely as if they are in the right. 
 
 
However, thanks to RTI, which has revealed the truth, they have been stumped, stunned but not enough to chart the right path. We, citizens, have to still show them! Long live RTI!!
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
Comments
sactel
5 months ago
It seems Maharashtra RTI online site https://rtionline.maharashtra.gov.in/ is not working any more atleast when I try visiting it today. Which department would help on this ?
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