Untracable communications beyond the reach of RTI
11 June 2012, Mumbai: This isn’t about Ratnakar Gaikwad, who was sworn in as Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra last Friday in the teeth of widespread opposition from RTI activists. This is about the decision-making environment in Mantralaya, MMRDA and many other government offices. It is about how government documents are nowadays like burqas, concealing the real decision-making process and often making the RTI process infructuous.Ratnakar Gaikwad’s correspondence with a chief of Western Naval Command shows how, when he was head of MMRDA, he did not even reply for over 60 days. And then, when he did reply, our new Chief Information Commissioner casually flung aside a plea for basic information by a top naval officer placed three levels below the President of India, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces. This article is about the real nature of government decision-making, and about how CM Prithviraj Chavan has strategically positioned Ratnakar Gaikwad in the Information Commission to ensure that the burqas of Mantralaya and MMRDA are not lifted by RTI activists.
Accountable and transparent governance demands that every decision must be properly minuted and documented. To maintain system integrity in the administration, every decision must leave clear footprints on paper. But are ministers and bureaucrats leaving an official paper trail? No.
DECISION-MAKING IS NOT REVEALED IN DOCUMENTS AND FILE-NOTINGS. Often, decisions made in unofficial ways are clothed in post-facto justifications that are written down to create a semblance of legitimacy. This creates a “black administration” or parallel administration in Maharashtra. (Yes, this is happening in other states and Govt. of India also.)
TEN METHODS OF “BLACK” DECISION-MAKING:
1) POLITICAL PARTY BOSSES, GODFATHERS & OTHER DECISION-MAKERS decide selections, permissions, award of major contracts, land allotments etc. Decisions of ministers are actually the decisions of their party bosses, and bureaucrats’ decisions are proxy-decisions of political godfathers who are not connected to the concerned department. Can any RTI activist get minutes of meetings held in the political party offices, or in the air-conditioned cars of party bosses while driving between venues? The answer is: No. Even if the agenda and minutes are kept in party offices, these are outside the purview of the RTI Act.
2) STICKY-NOTES AND LITTLE PAPER CHITS go from hand to hand. These are not filed, but discarded in the rubbish. Meetings and decisions happen at several venues around Mumbai and also Nagpur e.g. Mantralaya and New Administration Building at Nariman Point, MCGM headquarters in Fort, MMRDA headquarters at Bandra, Chief Minister’s bungalow and Sahyadri Guest House at Malabar Hill, and at similar venues in Nagpur. Can any RTI activist ever get access to all the chits of paper that are swept out in the rubbish? If an activist gets them, can he make sense of them? And if he makes sense, can he get such chits admitted as evidence by a law-enforcement agency or a court of law? Next to impossible.
3) SMALL NOTEBOOKS OF STENOGRAPHERS & SECRETARIES who sit beside ministers etc. contain scribbled shorthand messages. Notebooks are not official government stationery, and much of the government staff is on contract – here today, gone tomorrow. Quite often, big businessmen who are trying to get their work done at Mantralaya are told to be in touch with the PAs rather than the ministers and bureaucrats. Has any RTI activist got access to such notepads? Can he? Very difficult. But that is often the only place where key decisions are noted.
4) EMAILS, SMS, MMS & PHONE CALLS go between ministers, bureaucrats, government officials, leading businessmen and celebrity fixers (more about this later). Although some landlines and mobiles are paid for by the government, important calls are made on private lines. For instance, if CM Prithviraj Chavan communicates with Anil Ambani on a mobile phone that is registered in the name of his daughter, can you get the call records using RTI? No. Ideally, every communication of ministers and bureaucrats – whether formal or personal – must be recorded. But the reality is that maximum communications are unrecorded and unavailable for scrutiny. Although the RTI Act defines electronic exchange of data and communication as “information”, one is yet to meet a single RTI activist who got access to electronic communications between ministers, bureaucrats and stakeholders like companies engaged in PPP projects. As a rule, gov.in email ids are dead-letter-boxes; ministers and government officials use gmail or yahoo addresses. RTI activists are not asking for call-records, SMSes, recordings of telephone conversations and emails.
5) MEETINGS IN CORRIDORS, CARS etc have no appointments, no agenda, no minutes and no records. A small number of these may be revealed by security cameras. Has any RTI activist got the CDs of security camera footage that shows, say, Sharad Pawar and IRB Infrastructure Developers as they get into a car together? Unlikely. Even if one gets the security camera CD, what will it prove? Because it will have no audio.
6) ON FLIGHTS AND IN HOTELS ABROAD OR IN INDIA, our decision-makers have lengthy discussions without anybody monitoring them. Such meetings happen in Dubai, Mauritius, Malaysia or on the sidelines of IPL matches in India. People like Vijay Mallya, Mukesh Ambani and Subrata Roy Sahara or their trusted representatives participate in them. Is any RTI activist tracking the meetings that our ministers and bureaucrats have during their Indian tours, leave alone foreign tours? No.
7) HARD DISKS OF COMPUTERS & LAPTOPS used by ministers and bureaucrats, and their assistants contain lots of information. They may be messaging and emailing with special NIC software that is encrypted. Has any RTI activist asked for a full copy of all the computer drives of, say, the Maharashtra’s Revenue Minister’s office? No. Even CAG doesn’t look at computers.
8) PERSONAL MESSENGERS including peons, junior staff, political party-workers, Mantralaya-frequenters, journalists like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and fixers like Neera Radia — form the communication channel between political bosses and private entities. Some visitors are recorded in gate registers that may be accessed under RTI, but not all. Peons, junior staff, drivers, cops etc. slip in and out of offices, often unrecorded and unnoticed.
9) FAMILY MEMBERS of ministers and bureaucrats are not all leading private or professional lives. Some are active participants in decision-making. Bribes are given through family members and their trusts; a favourite route is for them to purchase properties at a low price and then sell them back at a higher price, and pocket crores within a couple of years, during which the bribe-giver and bribe-taker are bound together in a relationship. Sons and daughters are awarded lucrative business contracts or seats on company board of directors. As family members are not under RTI, the meetings that they hold are difficult to track.
10) CRICKET BODIES are being used by Sharad Pawar and Vilasrao Deshmukh to control government decisions and deliver money to foreign bank accounts, especially in tax haven countries. Politics, government, cricket and money mix freely at BCCI (Board of Control of Cricket in India) and MCA (Maharashtra Cricket Association). Cricket celebrities, including veterans like Sunil Gavaskar, travel to Dubai, Mauritius, South Africa and tax-haven countries many times a year. They meet with foreign companies that are part of mega-sized Public Private Partnership projects (PPP) such as Mumbai International Airport Limited. Cricket celebrities visit corporate offices like Sahara India and Kingfisher, as well as various government offices, without coming under a scanner. They are couriers for both money and decisions that are made elsewhere. Corporate money flows through BCCI and MCA without questions being raised, and these organizations are kept out of the scope of Right to Information. IPL (Indian Premier League) celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan and Shilpa Shetty are also part of this circuit. [Note: If this sounds like a far-fetched theory, ask why political heavyweights like Sharad Pawar and Vilasrao Deshmukh invest so much of their effort to head these sporting bodies!]
Given this background of toxic decision-making in Maharashtra government, take another look at Ratnakar Gaikwad’s communications with Western Naval Command, which relates to Adarsh building. Download this file:http://tinyurl.com/Adarsh-OC-
This PDF file contains three letters:
- The first two pages are a plea for information from Western Naval Command to Chief Secretary, Municipal Commissioner and Principal Secretary of Urban Development Department (UDD) on 25 June 2010.
- The third page is a covering letter from UDD, forwarding Western Naval Command’s letter to (then) MMRDA Chief Ratnakar Gaikwad on 30 August 2010.
- The last page is Ratnakar Gaikwad’s amazing reply to Western Naval Command on 29 September 2010.
HOW GAIKWAD DENIED INFORMATION TO NAVY CHIEF
ON 25 JUNE 2010, the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Naval Command (FOCIC WNC), wrote to Maharashtra’s Chief Secretary, Municipal Commissioner of Greater Mumbai and Principal Secretary of Urban Development Department. It was a reminder, as a similar letter had been written on 8 June 2010. (Bear in mind, FOCIC WNC is a very high office, third in line from President of India, who is Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. While MMRDA is in charge of planning for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Western Naval Command is in charge of coastal security of four states, namely Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka.)
This letter raised “serious concern with regard to the construction of a building by a private housing society in the vicinity of defense installations at Colaba Defence Station, Mumbai, and the necessity for screening of the allottees from the security point of view”. Mentioning the increased threat perception post 26/11 and asking for the list of allottees, FOCIC WNC said, “It is of the utmost urgency from the point of view of security… that necessary directives under Section 154 of the MRTP Act 1966 be immediately issued by the Government of Maharashtra to the Planning Authority not to grant any Occupation Certificate, partial or otherwise whatsoever, to the said building/society, which is in the vicinity of the WNC Defence installations /Colaba Defence Station till the desired information is provided by them, and vetted by this Headquarters. You are requested to kindly take action on the aforesaid, failing which HQ WNC would be constrained to take legal recourse to legal proceedings.”
Bear in mind, Western Naval Command did not ask the government to refuse OC to Adarsh; they only asked for issue of OC after the information about Adarsh allottees was provided to them, vetted by them and approved by them. It was a reasonable demand. It is a matter of national shame that FOCIC WNC wrote, “…all efforts to procure the requisite information from the Deputy Registrar “A” Ward, Registrar of Societies, Mumbai, and also from the Housing Society itself, failed as neither of them forwarded the desired information as per the format forwarded to them.”
ON 30 AUGUST 2010, this letter was forwarded without written instructions to Ratnakar Gaikwad, Metropolitan Commissioner, MMRDA. (See page 3 of PDF file.) Mantralaya (i.e. the Chief Secretary, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan or Principal Secretary UDD) could have replied directly to FOCIC WNC, or they could have issued directions to Ratnakar Gaikwad. But they did not, because they wanted Ratnakar Gaikwad to do a dirty job. (And yes, he did the dirty job and came out smelling like roses! God alone knows how many top people he shielded by doing this, and how many people owe him a debt of lifelong gratitude.)
ON 29 SEPTEMBER, Ratnakar Gaikwad delivered a killing stroke to Western Naval Command. Rendering the navy’s plea for information completely infructuous, Ratnakar Gaikwad stated in his letter that HE HAD ISSUED THE OC ON 16 SEPTEMBER i.e. 13 days earlier, despite having received their forwarded letters several times. The basis of this decision to give the OC unilaterally, without consulting the most important stakeholder i.e. Western Naval Command, was given as a letter written by the secretary of Adarsh Society. Let me repeat: The word of an ordinary building secretary – representing a very private interest – was Ratnakar Gaikwad’s justification for acting against the word of a defense chief, and denying him information about who was going to live in the building. Gaikwad’s letter went on to conclude that if the defense chief had any security concerns, he should now approach the police commissioner.
In other words, go to hell. Desi bhasha mein bole toh: “Thenga! Security concerns gaye bhaad mein! Ja ukhaad le jo ukhaadna hai!”
TEXT OF GAIKWAD’S AMAZING REPLY TO NAVY CHIEF
“Sir, please refer to your above cited letters. In this regard, secretary of the society has written a letter to MMRDA in which it is stated that ‘It is reliably learnt that Naval Authorities have also written to your office regarding the antecedents of members of our Society. In this context, I would like to bring it on record for your kind information that the society consists of members from Army, Navy, Government of India Officers from IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS and other Government Officers. Our members are including Ex Chief of Naval Staff, Ex Flag Officer Commanding in Chief, two formal Chief of Army Staff and other senior officers from Army, Navy, Defence Estates etc. The Society also have Hon’ble Members of Parliament, State Assembly besides senior people who held position of Union / State Cabinet Ministers and Speaker of Maharashtra Assembly. It is also brought on the record that the land in question is State Government land allotted to the Society by the State Government and Membership have been approved by the Government of Maharashtra/Collector Mumbai according to the Government Resolution in force and antecedents of all the members have been verified and approved by the government prior to allotment of membership. In the light of above, any further verification of antecedents of members by the navy appears to be overstepping the right of propriety vested in the Government of Maharashtra and Collector Mumbai City, who have verified and approved the names.’
“IN VIEW OF THE ABOVE, IT IS FELT THAT AFTER COMPLETION OF THE BUILDING, BASIC ISSUES MAY NOT BE RAISED (emphasis supplied). If there is any reasonable apprehensive (sic) about the members of the society from the security point of view, you may refer the matter to the appropriate authority such as Commissioner of Police, Mumbai. MMRDA has issued the Occupancy Certificate to the Adarsh Society on 16/9/2010.
Yours faithfully, Ratnakar Gaikwad, Metropolitan Commissioner.”
IS THIS HOW IT REALLY HAPPENED?
Is it likely that Metropolitan Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad – a seasoned bureaucrat and head of MMR’s planning authority — dismissed the safety concerns of a high-ranking naval officer based on a letter from a mere building secretary? Was it his own decision as Metropolitan Commissioner to give Adarsh the OC? Why was he in such a hurry to give the OC that he actually gave it first, and then wrote a letter to the Navy chief giving a lame justification?
This amazing letter leads you to the conclusion that Ratnakar Gaikwad received orders by non-official channels. For his obedience and cleverness in providing a cover for the state government, he was later rewarded with the post of Chief Secretary. And now, to cover up the documents of Mantralaya and MMRDA, Ratnakar Gaikwad has been made the Chief Information Commissioner. Chief Information Commissioner is the only one who hears RTI second appeals relating to Mantralaya and MMRDA. Former Metropolitan Commissioner Suresh Joshi was also made the Chief Information Commissioner despite being severely hearing-impaired, and coincidentally, he too had played a role in Adarsh. (Not to mention suspended State Information Commissioner Ramanand Tiwari, a former UDD Secretary, who recently spent 60 days in CBI custody for his role in Adarsh.)
GAIKWAD’S KNOWLEDGE OF ADARSH CONSPIRACY VS. TOTAL INNOCENCE
Firstly, Ratnakar Gaikwad cannot deny his knowledge of the Adarsh conspiracy in Mantralaya, involving at least 7-8 top bureaucrats and numerous top politicians, including Chief Minister Ashol Chavan. Everybody knew; and as MMRDA chief, it was Ratnakar Gaikwad’s job to know. Adarsh had been 10 years in the making, and a red flag had been raised in newspaper reports as early as in 2003. Besides being in the Indian Navy’s sensitive zone and in the Coastal Regulation Zone, MMRDA’s Development Plan had been modified to accommodate this 31-story building Coastal Regulation Zone. As MMRDA chief, it was Gaikwad’s job to have his ears to the ground and know everything there is to know about this building, including the security concerns, and the conspiracy and the cover-ups surrounding it. So Ratnakar Gaikwad cannot claim that he gave the Occupation Certificate innocently. Therefore, the letter that he wrote to Western Naval Command is completely disingenuous; it is a total cover-up.
Secondly, Gaikwad’s letter acknowledges that he had received forwards of the Navy chief’s letter on 28/7/2010, 1/9/2010 and 14/9/2010. Again, on 15/9/2010, he received a letter from the Navy directly addressed to him. Why did he not reply to all these letters until it was too late for the Navy to do anything about it, i.e. 29/9/2010, two weeks after he gave the OC to Adarsh? The gap between MMRDA receiving the first letter and its reply to the Navy was over 60 days. (The information that the Navy was requesting was never given by the Cooperatives Registrar, Chief Secretary, UDD, Municipal Commissioner, MMRDA; maybe they might have got it if they had filed an RTI application instead of writing letters!)
Finally, Ratnakar Gaikwad must have received phone calls from the Chief Secretary, Chief Minister, Municipal Commissioner, and Principal Secretary UDD soon after the Navy’s letter reached them on 8 June and 25 June 2010 – because it concerned issuing the occupation certificate, which was his turf. In fact, the letter must have been scanned and emailed to him. (The top brass must surely be emailing and phoning one another several times every week or even every day on an ongoing basis!) The Naval chief had threatened them with legal proceedings; would anybody take such a threat lightly? These people must have held many closed-door meetings that were not minuted or recorded.
There are surely dozens of emails, phone calls, SMSes and meetings that are not on record. So, Ratnakar Gaikwad was definitely not acting all alone in perfect innocence and good faith as he put the proverbial cherry – the occupancy certificate – on Adarsh building, the towering cake of deceit. But that is how they made it look.
And now Prithviraj Chavan and Ratnakar Gaikwad want us to believe that it was incidental that the post of Chief Information Commissioner in Maharashtra lay vacant for 10 months, while Gaikwad finished his term as Chief Secretary. They want us to believe that it was coincidence that the selection committee meeting was held three days after Gaikwad’s retirement from IAS. They want us to believe Ratnakar Gaikwad is the best man for the job.
Last but not least, they want us to believe that Chief SIC Ratnakar Gaikwad really cares about the rising pendency at Maharashtra State Information Commission, and that he will help the RTI applicant and the common man make this government transparent and accountable.
Prithviraj Sir, Ratnakar Sir, we are finding these things a little bit difficult to believe, No? When you will be giving appointment, Sir, for discussing all these things in the open? Lot of people are eagerly waiting, Sir.
PS: We have already sought an appointment with CIC Ratnakar Gaikwad to discuss these and other “allegations” with documents in hand. We have asked for an open-door meeting, where media and activists will be free to watch and ask questions. Hopefully, our new CIC will not disappoint.