The CIC today directed the state- run HUDCO to disclose information about expensive gifts including iPhones, ipads and Mont Blanc pens allegedly given by its CMD to different people, suspecting an attempt was being made to “cover up” the issue. Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu also marked a copy of the order to Minister of State for Urban Development Rao Inderjit Singh and Secretary Nandita Chatterjee for necessary action.
The order was issued on an RTI application seeking information from the Housing and Urban Development Corporation about presents given for the financial years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16, names of people who received the gifts, and number of expensive items gifted including iPhones and premium pens such as Mont Blanc by its Chairman-cum-Managing Director M Ravi Kanth. Vishwas Bhamburkar, the applicant, had also sought to know the number of air-conditioners installed at Kanth’s residence from official expenses, his electricity bills, complaints pending against Kanth, among other things. Central Public Information Officer of HUDCO asked the applicant to forward his identity proof only “to ascertain” whether information available will be useful to him either “personally or socially or nationally”.
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During the hearing, representative of the applicant, Mukul Jain alleged that around Rs five crore worth “malpractice” had happened at Hudco in the form of giving and receiving expensive gifts involving senior people in the Urban Development Ministry. Jain contended the CPIO had no authority to demand the identity proof and to ascertain whether information will be useful to him either personally, socially or nationally. In the past also, the Commission had directed HUDCO to allow the same applicant to inspect the records but the direction were not complied with, Jain alleged. Despite notices from the Commission, no representative was sent by the HUDCO to attend the CIC hearings. “The public authority has a duty to inform details about gifts purchased; if given to any officer, to whom and why; what is the legal basis or justification for giving gifts, did they maintain any register of gifts purchased and delivered, if not the receipt of gifts, and about expenditure on the house and office of MD etc,” Acharyulu said. In a strongly worded show cause notice to officials handling RTI applications at the HUDCO, Acharyulu said they “breached their duty” in not answering how many Mont Blanc Pens, iPhones and ipads were purchased and gifted.
He said it appeared that HUDCO was trying “to cover up the whole issue” by avoiding responding to RTI applications of the appellant. “The Commission directs the CPIO DK Gupta to explain why Commission should not recommend disciplinary action against him for acting in defiance of RTI Act, 2005 and gives him, as a last chance, time up to 20th July 2017 to file his explanation to show cause notice,” he said. He also directed Gupta to explain why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for not complying with the order of the CIC. “The anti-RTI attitude of HUDCO officers in this case gives rise to suspicion that there was a serious scandal of purchasing gifts worth crores, and spending huge amount of public money on residence and office of the Managing Director, and hence the public authority, the office of MD and RTI section are trying to avoid responses by putting forward lame excuses just to consume time,” Acharyulu noted.