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CIC censures DDA for lack of transparency in record management

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New Delhi: Central Information Commission issued an order on Friday 5 June 2020 in response to an appeal against the non-furnishing of information sought under the RTI Act from Delhi Development Authority regarding the Cooperative Group Housing Societies built on DDA allotted lease land in Delhi underscoring total lack of transparency and objectivity in respect of the documentation and record management resulting in huge loss not only to the DDA but also inconvenience to the public at large.

The order passed by Chief Information Commissioner Bimal Julka on Friday 5 June 2020 comes in response to an RTI application seeking information on 15 points regarding the Cooperative Group Housing Societies built on DDA allotted lease land in Delhi; name of the Government Authority and the person-in-charge who grants and manages completion certificates in Delhi; Certificate C and D issued to CGHS; certificate of occupancy and completion certificate and the Law, Act/ Rule/ Section under which it was mandatory to issue these certificates.

DDA’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), the officer responsible for providing the information under the RTI Act, stated through a letter on 27 July 2018 that DDA completion certificate was being issued by Building Department. Dissatisfied by the response of the CPIO, the Appellant approached the First Appellate Authority (FAA). It has come to light that the no order of the FAA in this matter is on the record of the Commission.

Asst Director, Group Housing, DDA, told the CIC that since the information sought was not available with them, he had transferred the file to the Building Division. The representative of the Building Division of the DDA feigned ignorance of the subject matter and stated that he was made aware of the Appeal under consideration on the date of hearing only. He was also unaware of the total number of societies which have yet to obtain completion certificates and tossed the matter to the Group Housing Division.

The representative of the Group Housing Division however informed that he had recently joined and as per his assessment, there were approximately 824 Group Housing Societies registered with DDA but no proper records were maintained of the updated status of fulfillment of procedural formalities.

The Commission has observed that no information was provided by the Respondent and the application shuttled from one Public Authority to another which was in contravention to the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005.

The CIC order categorically points out that apparently, “there exists a palpable vacuum in the records management system of the Public Authority which might be causing colossal revenue loss to the Public Authority besides huge inconvenience to the sufferings of the public”.

keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties and also in the light of the sensitivity and the criticality of the subject matter, the Commission has instructed the Vice Chairman, DDA to have this matter examined forthwith and furnish cogent, precise and correct information to the Appellant within a period of 30 days.

The Commission has also advised the Public Authority officials to place the entire information on its website for the benefit of the public at large. It is also essential that the Public Authority revisits
its record management manual and evolve a strong and robust mechanism for digitizing such records using the latest technological tools. An action taken report be sent to the Commission within a period of 30 days.

DDA has been asked to convene periodic conferences and seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of duties and responsibilities.

The Commission also has instructed DDA to convene periodic conferences/seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of its duties and responsibilities.

Editorial Comment: Under Sections 3 (3) (a) and (b) of the Delhi Development Act, 1957,
Delhi’s Lieutenant governor is the chairman of DDA, while its executive head is the Vice Chairman, who is always a senior IAS officer appointed by the Central Government. Questions arise, Where the buck should stop? Who should be held accountable for lack of transparency and objectivity and when it comes to meeting the objectives of DDA?

We talk of transparency and objectivity but if we take DDA as a test case, another big question that needs to be addressed is – Who will fix accountability with regard to those responsible for direlection of duty and causing loss to the exchequer?

In another matter connected with the Delhi Development Authority, the CIC in November 2019, had taken note of “utter neglect, casual and callous disregard” to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, and directed Rajesh Kumar, Pr. Commissioner (Housing), DDA, to depute an officer of an appropriate seniority to investigate and to fix responsibility and accountability on the concerned official within a period of 30 days. A copy of the action taken in the matter should be reported to the Appellant with a copy to the Commission for its perusal.

In this matter also Bimal Julka, in his earlier position as Central Information Commissioner, had issued the order. Through this order, DDA been instructed to convene periodic conferences/seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of its duties and responsibilities.

The Appellant vide his RTI application had sought information on 4 points in respect of Flat Number C-1, 164, details of payment plan for the said flat along with dates for the payment of installments; the date on which the possession of the said flat would be granted; number of properties for which the possession of flats had been transferred, etc.

The Assistant Director (RTI)/PIO, through letter of 12 December 2017, transferred the RTI application to the Assistant Director (Housing Scheme-17)/PIO, DDA, for necessary action at their end. Dissatisfied due to non-receipt of any response from the concerned CPIO, the Appellant approached the FAA. The APIO, on 6 March 2018, transferred the Appeal to the FAA, DDA, New Delhi, for necessary action.

The Appellant reiterated the contents of the RTI application and stated that despite repeated reminders to the DDA, no reply had been received for the last two years and therefore enraged by the callousness and utter neglect exhibited by the Respondent, he desired that penal action be initiated against the concerned official and compensation be granted for lack of due diligence and disrespect to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. In its reply, the Respondent while acknowledging the delay in attending to the RTI application submitted that the RTI application remained untraced due to heavy pressure of work and inadequate staff. Only on receipt of the notice of hearing, the application was attended to and replied.

The repondent informed the CIC that the RTI Appeal was diarised in their office and the same was handed over to the then Dealing Assistant Govind Singh, who had not put up the same to the PIO/FAA and that he had retired in January, 2019. It was also mentioned that Harish Chander who had since retired and Ms Suman Madan, PIO/Assistant Director was transferred from Housing Department. G. S. Badwal, FAA/Dy. Director was also transferred from Housing Department in the month of September, 2019.
Furthermore, it was submitted that the information sought by the Appellant was already available in the brochure of the Housing Scheme, 2017 and Demand-cum-Allotment letter dated 15.02.2018 issued to the Applicant and that other information asked by him was hypothetical in nature.

The Commission had observed that there was complete negligence and laxity in the public authority in dealing with the RTI applications. It is abundantly clear that such matters are being ignored and set aside without application of mind which reflects disrespect towards the RTI Act, 2005 itself, the Commission hasd stated and expressed its displeasure on the casual and callous approach adopted by the DDA authority in responding to the RTI application. CIC order said: “It was felt that the conduct of the Respondent was against the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 which was enacted to ensure greater transparency and effective access to the information.”