NEW DELHI: Not providing information about illegal constructions in the prohibited area around Taj Mahal proved costly for two officials of the Archaeological Survey of India as the CIC imposed a maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 on them.
The transparency panel was irked that despite its clear directives to disclose information about the specifics of illegal constructions in the 500 metres protected area around the monument, the records were not provided to an RTI applicant.
In response to a separate RTI response, the ASI had said there are 533 illegal structures around Taj Mahal.
RTI applicant Bhim Singh Sagar had sought from the ASI specific details of houses, roads, residential colonies etc., within demarcation of 500 meters border from the east to south gate of the Taj Mahal as notified. The ASI said it did not have any such details with it.
When the matter reached the CIC, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said non-disclosure of this information facilitates the corruption by both the ASI and the 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," he said in his order.
The Commissioner imposed the maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 under the RTI Act on Central Public Information Officers--K A Kabui and M C Sharma of Archaeological Survey of India--who handled the RTI application. This amount will be recovered from their salary.
"Non-furnishing of information in this case deprived the appellant of his right to scrutinise the record to know about prohibited constructions around the Taj Mahal and complain against illegal constructions if any, or resist those activities prohibited by the ASI Act," he said.
The commissioner said Kabui failed to comply with the directions of the commission to furnish the information.
Acharyulu said when 500 meters periphery was demarcated for the purposes of protection of the historic monument, the ASI was 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," he said.
The commission rejected the CPIO's argument that the information was held by the Agra Development Authority and she had forwarded the application asking them to furnish information.
"The public authority thus cannot deny their responsibility to report the illegal construction and the officer handling the RTI application cannot escape responsibility of answering queries by simply forwarding the application to other local civic authority," he said.
Acharyulu now directed the ASI to proactively make public, under Section four of the RTI Act, the details of illegal costructions, details of structures, colonies and roads within 500 meters of the monument.
It also directed the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to disclose what steps it has taken to prevent eutrophication in Yamuna, affecting the marble beauty of Taj Mahal, and to avoid the threat of Goeldichironomus swarm of bugs emanating from the river.
An attack of these insects had left the iconic white marble of the monument with greenish-black blemishes. The insects had multiplied due to rampant dumping of municipal solid waste in the river.
Eutrophication is a process in which a water body becomes excessively rich in nutrients because of run-off from the land. The phenomenon suffocates the water because of high biochemical oxygen demand from plants.