Nudged by RTI, Jharkhand government acts

IN Media Practice | 20/10/2006
A newspaper’s persistence compels the State’s Law Department to move on a file pending for 40 odd months.
 

 

 

Vishnu Rajgadia

Coordinating Editor, Prabhat Khabar, Dhanbad & Deoghar

(Convener, Jharkhand RTI Forum)

 

Summary:  The Manorma Trust was established in 1968. It had huge immovable properties including land called Bawan Bigha at Deoghar and two houses at Kolkata. Three sons of the founder of the Trust claimed it as their private property. But the Bihar Hindu Religious Board appointed the DC of Deoghar as trustee of this trust. The three sons moved the  Patna and then Kolkata High Court. But they did not get relief. After the  creation of  Jharkhand, they approached Mr. RN Shahdeo, the Chairman of Jharkhand Hindu Religious Board. He declared the whole property as private property of the sons. This decision was given under section 43 of Hindu Religious Board Act. This was an illegal decision. But the Law Department was silent due to some well-known reasons. When Vishnu Rajgadia from Prabhat Khabar visited to the Law Secretary to get his version, he replied as if he knew nothing regarding the matter.

 

Rajgadia from filed an Right to Information (RTI) application to get information. He got it after 8 months. It was surprising that though state cabinet had told the law department to conduct an inquiry into this matter, it was casually dealt with. To pursue the matter Mritunjaya Sharma from the RTI team of Prabhat Khabar again filed an application.  He asked why the law department did not take lawful action. This application compelled the department to wake up. After silence of more than 40 months, the Law Department declared that the judgment by Board Chairman was completely illegal.

 

 

 The Whole Story

 

RTI has proved its wide scope to obtain news in depth and also to fight against corruption. One such example from Jharkhand, states the historical impact of this marvellous act.

 

The President of the Jharkhand Hindu Religious Trust Board, Rajendra Nath Shahdeo through an unconstitutional judgment, turned a property worth millions of rupees into private property. This property of Manorma Trust included the acres of land of Bhawan Bigha of Deoghar and two big houses at Kolkata. The owner of this property had converted it into Manorma Trust in 1968. His sons filed case and appealed for conversion of the Trust property into private property before the Patna and Kolkata High Court. But the court denied hearing the case on the ground that the matter pertained to the civil domain; therefore this case can be heard in civil court. The court also suggested to  the appellant that they could also file application under Article 43 of the Hindu Religious Trust Board Act for hearing into this matter. As per the article 43, it suggests that if any dispute pertains to the trust property, then the state government can appoint a competent authority for hearing. According to the act, the government with notification could appoint such authority and the person should be either from administrative services or from legal services. But the board president violating the provisions of the Act declared himself as the judge and converted the entire property into private property in his own court.

 

The entire process was unconstitutional. The District Commissioner of Deoghar gave a written objection. Even the department of law declared it as unconstitutional. But despite all this the property was converted. The matter was brought up to the cabinet, which ordered the law department to inquire. But the people of Jharkhand were unaware regarding the action taken by them.

 

As a journalist, I was interested to know the facts. I asked from the officials of the Law Department for information regarding the enquiry of Manorma Trust. But in spite of several attempts, I was unable to get a single word. At last, I visited the Law Department and managed to send my visiting card to the Law Secretary, Mr. Rambilas Gupta. He knows that I am interested in Manorma Trust case. Therefore, he was apathetic and did not even offer me a chair to sit. I was left standing in front of him and he was engaged in his own files. He did not pay any attention towards me and lastly replied with only few words- "Manorma Trust, I don’t know, what is the matter. We have not received any order for such inquiry."

 

 It was evident that he was lying. A journalist like me might have been helpless in such a situation earlier. But thanks to the RTI, I filed a request for information under this act, on 29th December 2005. On 7th January 2006, the Law Department informed in writing that the report was with the Law minister; as soon as it reaches their office it will be provided.

 

On 27.03.2006 this matter was brought to the notice of the Chief Information Commissioner of the Centre, Wajahat Habibullah during the CHRI workshop. He said that the reply of the Law Department was not justified and cleared that if the report was with the Law minister, it meant that the information was within the office itself because the minister is himself the part of the department.

 

After obtaining facts from other sources, news was published in two episodes in Prabhat Khabar on 30th and 31st January 2006 respectively.

 

Fortunately, the State Information Commission was formed. On 09.08.2006, I made an appeal regarding my request for information. This was a dramatic move. The Law Department called for the file from the table of the Law Minister (Chief Minister) and was provided to me. Earlier, I was denied for a single word and now I have obtained the complete file.

 

Facts obtained from the file were bewildering. The State Cabinet had ordered to the Law Department for inquiry. But the department sends it to the Deputy Commissioner of Deoghar. The DC also did not bother to look into the matter. He handed it to the ADM. He also took a safe path and sent it to the Circle Officer. This person also followed the same path and handed the work of inquiry to the HALKA - KARMACHARY (Land related third grade employee). This poor man arranged some papers related to the Manorma Trust and sent it to Circle officer. These papers were forwarded to ADM, then DC and finally to the Law Department. The department for "Law" was less interested in the issues related to "Law" and forwarded the report to the Law Minister. This example states the pathetic condition of Law in the state. These facts were exposed only due to RTI.

 

After getting these facts, we decided to file another RTI application. On 26.09.2006, Mritunjay Sharma from Prabhat Khabar RTI team filed an application to the Law Department of the Jharkhand Government seeking information regarding the following:

 

1.Provide a copy of the order of the appointment of  a competent authority for the hearing of the Manorama Trust case under section 43, the name of the authority and his designation etc.

 

2. If the state has not appointed any competent authority, then provide the information as per the law about the legality of the hearing of this case and also state the nature of this illegal act and the provision for action against this act and information related to the competent authority for taking action on it.

 

3. Please let me know which department/authority is responsible for monitoring that the work in the legal departments are processed in a legal way and if in the case related to the Manorma Trust some illegal act has been done then what steps has been taken by the said department/authority. If the said department did not take appropriate action, then is it the matter of violating their duties. Who would take what actions against them?

 

4. During the hearing of the of the Manorma Trust case provide the details of the Advocate/ Official who fought for Hindu Religion Trust Board and also state how did they present their points and provide the documents. 

 

5. To whom the property of Manorma Trust has been transferred, provide its complete details.

 

6. The state cabinet had issued orders to the Law Department for the enquiry related to the Manorma Trust. Despite, the cabinet’s orders, why did the Law Department not enquire about the legality of this matter? Provide the reasons for it.

 

 It was difficult for the Law Department to answer these questions. But, despite their apathetic attitude they were forced to answer them only due to the amazing Right to Information Act. Therefore they were compelled to take decisions on the file pending for around 40 odd months. On 11.10.2006, the Law Department declared the Chairman has no right to take any decision on such matter related to property.  It termed the decision of the Board as void ab initio. It stated that the Chairman of the Hindu Religion Trust Board is not appointed as the competent authority under section 43 of the Act and he has no right to decide anything about the trust land.

 

This decision was sent as a reply to RTI application of Mritunjay Sharma on 13.10.2006. Taking such decision after 40 months is clear indication of the pressure of the RTI Application.

         

Now it will be interesting to see the fate of the Chairman as well as the huge property of the Trust.

 

 

 

Contacts:

Vishnu Rajgadia-09431104424

Mritunjay Sharma-09334438196

 

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